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Rice set to make biggest pitch

Amid the mounting clamour from non-proliferation hawks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is getting set for a hard sell of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 01:59 IST

Amid the mounting clamour from non-proliferation hawks, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is getting set for a hard sell of the Indo-US nuclear deal on Capitol Hill this week.

Her back-to-back testimonies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House International Relations Committee on Wednesday are being viewed as the Bush administration’s biggest push of the deal in US Congress to date. Analysts believe the quality of Rice’s responses to a barrage of searching questions will be critical to winning over a sizeable number of fence-sitters and isolating the critics, particularly on the House side.

Judging by the mood on the Hill, some leading US newspapers believe the deal is no shoo-in. “The signature Bush effort has failed to find champions on Capitol Hill. The left and right both fear proliferation of arms would increase,” reports the Los Angeles Times,  predicting revisions and delays for the deal, if not an outright rejection.

On Monday, the Washington Post quoted an official saying that failure to consult Congress before concluding the agreement may have created “lasting problems” for the administration. “The way they jammed it through is going to haunt us,” the official said. The agreement is also “in trouble” because nuclear specialists within the US government say their concerns about weapons proliferation were “overridden in the final talks”, the paper reported.

But the administration’s leading lights don’t subscribe to the doomsday scenario for the deal. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns remains confident the administration’s persuasive case that the pact is in the US’ best interests and a net gain for non-proliferation will win the day for it — a point he has made forcefully in a series of public engagements and media interviews lately.

“The President was willing to make a bold move towards India, and it is going to pay off for the US now and into the future,” says Burns in what is expected to be the central thrust of Rice’s congressional testimony.