Plans for the US Congress to approve a landmark deal that would allow India to buy US nuclear fuel and reactors hit a snag on Wednesday when Republican leaders in the House of Representatives halted action on the legislation, congressional sources said.
The sources, who support the deal and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said they still hoped the bill could be approved. But time was running out because Congress plans to adjourn this week for the year.
The legislation would make changes in US law to allow nuclear-armed India to buy US nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years.
The House and the Senate adopted competing versions of the bill so congressional negotiators worked through the night to reconcile differences to reach a compromise, which has not been made public.
Plans were to have both chambers give final approval to the legislation on Wednesday. But then House Republican Majority leader John Boehner of Ohio halted action, the sources said.
Kevin Smith, Boehner's spokesman, said the bill was not formally scheduled for a vote on Wednesday but will be put before Congress when Boehner and other leaders "have some sort of a resolution."
He said he did not know what was holding up the legislation as lawmakers "are still working things out."
But he insisted: "The House will complete action in the bill before we adjourn this week so we can send the bill to the president for his signature."
One Democratic source said that during an all-night session that ended on Wednesday,"We settled our text, worked everything through and then Boehner told HIRC (House International Relations Committee) representatives to stop moving the bill."
Another source added: "Work was progressing nicely until this morning. It seemed clear sailing but suddenly we hit a reef."
The sources said they did not know the exact reason for the delay, but they believed Republicans were squabbling over adding unrelated provisions to the bill.
The Bush administration strongly favours the US-India nuclear deal. On Tuesday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said one of his priorities was to have Congress pass the bill this week. But that popularity makes it an appealing vehicle for attaching items that have less political support.
The deal reverses 30 years of US policy that, until July 2005, opposed nuclear cooperation with India because the South Asian democracy never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and developed nuclear weapons in contravention of international standards.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was expected in New Delhi on Thursday to discuss a second agreement that would set out technical details of nuclear cooperation with India that has been stymied in large part because of objections from New Delhi.
India has been vigorously resisting provisions aimed at ensuring the nuclear cooperation deal does not advance India's weapons programme.
Even though it has nuclear arms, India never signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates the United States not to assist non-NPT signatories with their weapons programmes.