The United States has expressed the hope that its civil nuclear deal with India would be approved next week when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes to meet President George Bush.
"And one of the reasons Prime Minister Singh will come to the White House is to help push that over the line so that we can get it done," White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said on Friday.
Bush has invited Manmohan Singh to the White House Sep 25 to toast the historic accord to end 30 years of India's nuclear isolation visualised by the two leaders in a joint statement on July 18, 2005 during the Indian premier's last visit to the US.
The Bush administration has been pushing hard for fast track approval of the deal ever since the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) gave India a waiver for nuclear trade after hectic US efforts.
But despite support from both sides of the aisle, a mandatory 30-day waiting period for putting the deal to an up or down, or yes or no vote, has posed a hurdle for Congressional approval before lawmakers take a break Sep 26 for the Nov 4 presidential elections.
"We do believe that there's significant support in Congress that would allow us to get this through. I hope that they would be able to get it done next week," Perino said a day after a top Democrat called for its passage "this month, rather than waiting until next year".
"We'll keep you updated and see if there's anything more to add," Perino said. "I would encourage you to check with the Senate to see if they have it on the schedule."
The White House official also touted the benefits of the deal for energy security and environment. "The (implementing) 123 agreement that we have been working with India and then with our Congress on is critically important to energy security and also for the environment," she said.
The evidence of strong Congressional support for the deal came at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday when acting chairman Christopher Dodd, spoke of "a strong desire to reach agreement", though he acknowledged that "some members have reservations".
At the hearing only two members of the panel, Democrats Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer, both known critics who sought to move amendments when the enabling Hyde Act was passed in December 2006, voiced their opposition to the deal.
Dodd, presiding over the session in the absence of Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is an avid supporter of the deal, said "We would be well advised to approve it this month... rather than waiting until next year."
He also hinted at the possibility of including the deal in a "continuing resolution" of the Senate and House of Representatives. "I don't see any likelihood a freestanding proposal would have any opportunity for consideration," he told reporters after the hearing.
In the last days of the legislature, several pending legislations are usually tagged along with such a resolution to approve a spending bill to allow the administration to run the government when it fails to pass a regular budget.
Dodd said his committee would work over the weekend to find a way out for quick approval without unravelling the agreement by opening it up for amendments in case the 30-day mandatory period is waived.
The concerns of the House too would have to be considered, he said alluding to House foreign affairs committee chairman Howard Berman's reluctance to put the deal on fast track despite the efforts of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and several members of the US Congress.
Berman says he supports the deal, but has some reservations about the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver to India for nuclear trade. He has said that it was the responsibility of the Bush administration to first prove that the waiver is consistent with the US enabling law, the Hyde Act.
Meanwhile, another critic of the deal in the House, Democrat Edward J. Markey, slammed the State Department for what he called its misleading Senate testimony on the US-India Nuclear Deal.
"President Bush is desperate to boost his legacy, but if the Congress fails to carefully conduct the necessary oversight, the legacy left by this agreement will be one of blatant disregard for global security," he said.