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Nuke deal gets a diplomatic push

US senate may take up the deal before it breaks for Congressional elections.

india Updated: Sep 22, 2006 10:38 IST

A day of hectic diplomatic activity in Washington by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran raised hopes that Indo-US nuclear deal may well be taken up by the US senate before it breaks for the November Congressional elections.

Saran met key Congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader William Frist and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in Washington on Friday before flying back to New York to join Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee in a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In Washington, Saran also met Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, its Ranking Democrat Tom Lantos, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph and Deputy National Security Adviser for International Economic Relations, David McCormick.

Earlier, Saran had met Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Counsellor in the State Department Philip Zelikow, in New York on Thursday.

There was no official word on Saran's talks beyond what the Indian embassy described as "wide ranging discussions on all aspects of bilateral relations, including the civil nuclear understanding."

But Frist's office indicated that they were working on a unanimous consent agreement to sort through potential amendments with the goal of month end—just days before the senate takes a break for the Congressional poll on Oct 6.

Another positive development was reports that Republican John Eric Ensign and a couple of other senators had removed their 'hold' on the bill following changes made to its Title II, a provision requiring Washington to also sign International Atomic Energy Agency's 'Additional Protocol'.

'Hold' is an informal practice by which a Senator informs his or her floor leader that he or she does not wish a particular bill or other measure to reach the floor for consideration. The majority leader need not follow the Senator's wishes, but is on notice that the opposing Senator may filibuster any motion to proceed to consider the measure.

If the bill is indeed taken up next week and passed before the break, it would give time to the Senate and the House conferees to start reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions.

That would allow the president to sign the legislation into law without having to go to the Senate in a lame-duck session after the November elections.

The removal of the 'hold' apparently follows a compromise with the authors of the senate bill, Richard Lugar and ranking Democrat Joe Biden, on the language of the Title II providing for IAEA inspections that had raised some concerns about national security.

In including the Title II, the bill's authors had argued that at a time when the US is demanding that India complete and ratify the Additional Protocol as part of its civilian nuclear agreement and that Iran also abide by it, Washington too must do so.

Neither the Bush administration nor India had any problem with the addition of Title II though it had nothing to do with the India deal as such before it put a spanner in the wheel.

The US House of Representatives had passed the enabling legislation in July with an overwhelming 359-68 vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared its own version by a 16-2 majority in June.