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Nuke deal faces first vote today

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 01:34 IST
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Bill has gained momentum: Burns

Indian circles are guardedly optimistic one the eve of the first vote in the US Congress on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The 50-member International Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives will hold a debate and then vote, known as a mark-up, on Tuesday on the bill amending the 1954 US Atomic Energy Act.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns believes the pendulum has recently shifted in favour of the deal. More congressmen have signed up to co-sponsor the bill as recently as two days ago. However, say Washington observers, a simple majority vote is insufficient. The committee needs to vote overwhelmingly in favour to ensure the political momentum to take the bill through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and both Houses of Congress — and do so before the Congress adjourns in early August.

The approval will require a second round of voting after India and the US conclude a 123 Agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. The Senate committee is scheduled to vote on Wednesday.

Negotiations among congressional leaders, Indian and US officials continued all through Monday. The White House and the Indian embassy sought to co-opt as many congressmen as possible, largely by incorporating individual concerns about Iran, the NPT and fissile material production into the non-binding sections of the bill. "India can accept or reject these as it wishes," explained diplomatic sources.

The US nonproliferation lobby, which has denounced the deal, still hoped that hardcore opponents like legislator Ed Markey could rally enough support to at least delay the bill.

Their calculation: after November, Democrats could control the House and George W. Bush would be a lame duck. The legislation would then be put off indefinitely. "Markey is not a member of the committee in any case," said an Indian diplomat.