The India-US nuclear deal expected to come up for Congressional approval this week has been hailed by a key panel of the legislature as "perhaps the most important strategic diplomatic initiative" undertaken by the Bush Administration.
"With this agreement, the administration is asking Congress to see the opportunities that lie beyond the horizon of the current presidential term," the Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by Republican Richard Lugar said in a report commending the enabling bill to the upper house.
India is already assuming a new role in world affairs, the report said, noting that India's votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue in September 2005 and February 2006 demonstrate that New Delhi is able and willing to adopt a more constructive role on international non-proliferation issues.
"India continues to prize its strategic autonomy, but this agreement will give it increasing incentives to use its influence to bring about international stability and global economic progress," it added, offering a strategic rationale for the deal.
"This agreement also would be a powerful incentive for India to cooperate closely with the United States in stopping proliferation and to abstain from further nuclear weapons tests," the Senate panel report said.
"The administration's declaration that we would welcome India's advancement as a major economic and political player on the world stage represents a strategic decision to invest political capital in a country with a vibrant democracy, rapidly growing economy and increasing clout," it said.
While Lugar introduced on Thursday the bill as approved by his panel by an overwhelming 16-2 vote, his counterpart on the House International Committee, Republican Henry Hyde, is expected to bring forward its own version adopted by an equally huge 37-5 margin.
Once approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives, the legislation will have to go to a Conference Committee to work out a common language as a bill cannot become a law of the land until it has been approved in identical form by both houses.
With a well-educated middle class that is larger than the entire American population, India can be an anchor of stability in Asia and an engine of global economic growth. It can also be a key partner in countering global extremist trends, the panel said.
"Both the United States and India understand the importance of opposing violent movements through the promotion of religious pluralism, tolerance and democratic freedoms. As a country with well-entrenched democratic traditions and the world's second largest Muslim population, India can set an example of a multi-religious and multi-cultural democracy in an otherwise volatile region," it said.
Describing the India agreement "as perhaps the most important strategic diplomatic initiative" undertaken by Bush administration, the report said "it represents a fundamental departure from the crisis management mentality that has dominated foreign policy in recent years".
"By concluding this pact and the far-reaching set of cooperative agreements that accompany it, the president has embraced a long-term outlook that seeks to strengthen our foreign policy in a way that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability," it said.
The committee, the report said, had studied carefully the implications of the nuclear pact on non-proliferation policy. It was concerned about the precedent set by this action, and worked to ensure that this agreement does not undercut US compliance with its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The committee believes that its bill achieves a proper balance and will help solidify New Delhi's commitments to implement strong export controls, separate its civilian nuclear infrastructure from its weapons programme, and place civilian facilities under IAEA safeguards, the report said.