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Saran in US to clear N-deal doubts

Over next 2 days, Foreign Secy is set to meet some of the congressional movers and shakers, reports S Rajagopalan.

india Updated: Mar 30, 2006 04:22 IST

With US Congress beginning deliberations on the nuclear deal, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran was on Wednesday getting ready for a charm offensive on Capitol Hill. Over the next two days, he is set to meet some of the congressional movers and shakers in a bid to clear the air and win wide support for the pact.

The day started with Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and Undersecretary for Arms Control Robert Joseph briefing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It was the first in a series of proposed hearings on the deal following introduction of an enabling legislation on March 16.

Saran’s engagements are being seen as the biggest Indian push on the Hill. Meetings have been sought on Wednesday and Thursday with the big guns of the Senate and House committees, including Senators Richard Lugar and Joseph Biden, and Representatives Henry Hyde and Tom Lantos. He is also to confer with India Caucus co-chairs and select lawmakers of the formation.

Saran was to call on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the afternoon before talks with Burns and others. Besides discussing the nuclear deal, they will also follow up on some of the new initiatives thrown up during President Bush’s India visit.

The Senate committee and House committee will determine the shape of things to come after going into the nitty-gritties of the legislative proposal and the Indian plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities.

Both Burns and Saran have their work cut out, with non-proliferation fundamentalists stepping up their own campaign on the Hill in a bid to set impossible conditions for passage of the bill. One stipulation it is actively lobbying for is that India should stop production of fissile material forthwith.

The naysayers got a boost on Wednesday with former President Jimmy Carter attacking the deal. Writing in the Washington Post, Carter said the pact was “just  one more step in opening a Pandora’s box of nuclear proliferation”.