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N-bill could pass next week: Mulford

The US envoy to India says there is bipartisan support for Indo-US ties in general and N-deal in particular. In pics

india Updated: Nov 11, 2006 21:29 IST

The US on Thursday sought to downplay fears of a Democratic victory in congressional elections affecting the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and expressed optimism that the nuclear legislation will be passed in the lame duck session of the Senate next week.

In the same breath, the US admitted that there was still a great deal of uncertainty, and if the nuclear bill failed to win the Senate vote this year, the whole Congressional process will have to start all over again when the new Congress meets in January next year.

"There is widespread bipartisan support for the Indo-US relations in general and the nuclear deal in particular. It is a positive situation," US ambassador to India David C Mulford told reporters in New Delhi.

"Chances are quite favourable" that the Senate will vote out the nuclear bill in the lame duck session, Mulford said in response to a question.

"The bill could be voted out next Wednesday and Thursday," Mulford said optimistically. If it clears the Senate, it will be followed by a conference to reconcile between the Senate and House versions of the bill.

The final version of the bill will have to be again passed by both houses of the US Congress before it goes to the White House for the presidential signature.

"It's purely a question of parliamentary procedures. The number of amendments to the Senate draft of the bill have narrowed down. And there is a strong bipartisan consensus that let's get on with it," Mulford said.

"In the last two days, there has been a strong expression of bipartisan consensus in favour of the nuclear bill," Mulford said pointing out to favourable statements by leading Democrats like Joe Biden and Tom Lantos after Tuesday's mid-term congressional elections.

"I am trying to get the India bill done," US President George Bush said on Wednesday.

As a sign of confidence about the future of the civil nuclear legislation, the US and India are carrying on negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact, also called the 123 agreement.

A team of the state department officials is already in New Delhi and is negotiating the 123 agreement with Indian officials.

The US is confident that regardless of the outcome of the civil nuclear legislation that promises to overturn three decades of denial of nuclear technology and fuel to India, bilateral relations will remain strong and continue to prosper.

The US envoy pointed out a slew of visits by top US officials, starting with US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher who arrives in New Delhi on Thursday evening, over the next few weeks to underline the robust state of the India-US relations.

After it became evident that Democrats have come out on top in the congressional elections, Senator Joe Biden, top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations panel, said that legislators were ready to go with the India bill, and stressed that he hoped that it would be considered when the Congress returns to work next week.

Biden underlined that it would take "at least a day's worth of debate, no more than two" to settle the bill in the Senate.

Biden added that it would "pass with a very large vote" in its favour but it was up to the Senate's Republican leader Bill Frist on whether it would be considered in the lame duck session of the Congress.