The US Senate took up the bill on the India-US civil nuclear deal for debate late on Thursday, a few hours after US President George W Bush called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reassure him of his administration’s commitment to its passage in the US Congress.
Making the first presentation in support of the legislation, Senator Richard Lugar said he would oppose attempts to delay or impose additional conditions on the agreement.
Lugar, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is managing the bill on the floor, said: "We should not hold up the significant non-proliferation gains afforded by this initiative in order to seek a fissile material cap that India has indicated it will not consider, in the absence of similar commitments by Pakistan and China."
During the debate, to be followed by a vote, senators will discuss the finer aspects of the bill, including 18 proposed amendments. It is expected that many amendments will be settled through a voice vote.
The US House of Representatives approved a similar bill in July. Once the Senate approval is also obtained, US Congress will reconcile the two bills to forge legislation to enable the deal.
Earlier in the day, Bush, who is touring Southeast Asia, had a five-minute conversation with the prime minister over the telephone from Singapore. A statement issued later by the Prime Minister's Office said: "The prime minister expressed appreciation for President Bush's commitment to the passage of the legislation." However, Singh "hoped that the bill in its final form will accommodate India's stated concerns".
Bush assured Singh that the parameters laid down in the joint statement of July 18, 2005 and the March 2, 2006 statements in Parliament would be the guiding factors in giving final shape to the legislation. The March 2 document, firmed up during President Bush's visit to India, outlined the separation plan under which India agreed to identify and offer 14 of its 22 thermal power reactors for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
Singh has categorically told Parliament that there would be no capping of India's strategic programme and that the integrity of "our Nuclear Doctrine and our ability to sustain a minimum credible nuclear deterrent" are adequately protected.
(With PTI inputs)