The India-US civil nuclear deal took another step towards US Congressional approval with the Senate naming conferees to iron out its differences with the House of Representatives over the enabling legislation.
But there is no saying yet how far would the Senate-House conference go to address India's concerns over a few provisions despite fears voiced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that relations with India could be damaged if some of the amendments were not dropped.
A section in the Senate version requiring President Bush to determine that India is "fully and actively" helping US-led efforts to confront Iran's nuclear programme, for one, could "be viewed by India as adding additional conditions" to the original agreement, she said in a letter last week to leaders of both chambers.
Rice also questioned another proposal that bans the transfer of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing equipment or facilities to India. "It is not appropriate to single out India, which has been a responsible steward of its nuclear technology," she wrote.
Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist expressed the hope on Monday that the India deal can be completed before the current Congress ends its lame-duck session possibly, by the weekend, by working with the minority Democrats.
"Today Senate conferees were named for the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation bill. Work will begin immediately with the intention of completing all action by week's end. Together with Senators George Allen, Chuck Hagel and Dick Lugar (Republicans), we will work across the aisle with Senators Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd (Democrat) to ensure that the goal is met," he said.
Frist made the statement shortly after the Senate met for only five minutes just to appoint five conferees to work with their counterparts from the House resuming its session on Tuesday after the Thanksgiving break.
Meanwhile, Biden who will replace Lugar as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman in the new Democrat controlled Congress in January, has suggested that there is "nothing material" in the Senate version of the Bill that should be a cause of concern to India.
"It's not only the best we have got, I think it's good. There is nothing material in that legislation that should cause the Indians, other than for political reasons, to have any concern about the ratification," he was quoted as saying in a published interview.
"I think we've been able to stitch together this overwhelming support. I would urge my Indian friends to look at how significant the overall support was," Biden said.
He noted that there was "absolutely no evidence" that India had transferred any technology or lethal weapons to Iran, but warned that if New Delhi wanted a more robust military agreement with Tehran it would "ruin" Indo-US relations notwithstanding the civil nuclear deal.
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, Washington's chief negotiator of the deal, will be on a four-day visit to India from Dec 6-9 to discuss the future course of action over the India deal with his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran.
Burns will also meet Saran's successor as foreign secretary, Shivshankar Menon, and other senior officials to discuss bilateral and regional issues including defence cooperation, and trade and investment relations as part of the US-India strategic dialogue.