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N-deal: Mark-Up of legislation on cards

House of Representatives' International Relations Committee is scheduled on Wednesday to fine-tune Indo-US deal.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 01:02 IST

The Indo-US nuclear deal is finally moving into its home stretch in the US Congress this week with the 50-member House International Relations Committee slated to hold a crucial "mark-up" on Wednesday. 

Although the contours of what will be emerging out of the House panel and a subsequent sitting of its Senate counterpart are still unclear, there is a measure of cautious optimism in the Indian camp. This is largely due to the broad support voiced in recent days by the chairmen of both the panels.

The "mark-up" is a process by which "congressional committees and subcommittees debate, amend, and rewrite proposed legislation". In the case of the nuclear pact, it comes after a series hearings held over the past nine months.

Once cleared by the two committees, the legislation to amend the US Atomic Energy Act for an Indian-specific waiver and amendments, should they get the requisite votes in the panels, will proceed to the full House and Senate for the final debate and vote. 

The enabling legislation was introduced in both Houses in March following President George W. Bush's India visit that firmed up the July 2005 decision on the pact.

The US's non-proliferation lobby, which has been out to thwart passage of the India deal, is in the meantime planning its own last-ditch counter-offensive. On the eve of the mark-up, it has convened an event on Tuesday at the Arms Control Association, featuring some of the foremost critics of the deal. 

The group has roped in senior Democratic lawmaker Howard Berman, who has moved his own legislation for setting stiff criteria for civilian nuclear trade with countries like India that have not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The meeting, it is said, will dwell on measures that Congress needs to pursue "to remedy the deal's shortcomings".

Indian sources are counting on a major turnaround following the strong endorsement of the pact by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar on Friday.

Although his counterpart on the House committee, Henry Hyde, has not made a formal statement yet, his spokesperson has said that Hyde is "optimistic" that he and ranking Democrat Ton Lantos will be able to ask their committee "to approved some kind of India measure before the end of the month".

The bill to give effect to the deal has been co-sponsored by 38 House members and 10 Senate members thus far. As many as 16 of the 38 House co-sponsors are from Texas, the home state of President Bush. In contrast, there is just one co-sponsor from California, the US's most populous state with 52 members in the House.