The Indo-US nuclear deal has moved into the last lap clearing a major hurdle when the House of Representatives approved a legislation on it that will now go to the Senate which is likely to vote on it on Monday.
Once the Senate clears the bill, the agreement reached between the two countries three years ago will be ready for final ratification by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee when she visits New Delhi on October 3 before the two countries can implement it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said the landmark agreement could be brought to a vote in his Chamber, possibly as early as tomorrow, and urged his colleagues to drop their objections to the deal.
After a lot of drama and suspense, the House of Representatives passed the Bill on an unusual extra day of sitting on Saturday with bipartisan support but a considerable number of Democrats were still opposed to it.
The Berman Bill H R 7081, named after Howard Berman, a Democrat strongly opposed to the deal on non-proliferation grounds who converted only a couple of days ago, was adopted with 298 voting for and 117 against it. One lawmaker merely voted present.
Despite the bipartisan support the bill received, 107 Democrats voted against the legislation while 120 of their party colleagues voted for it. In the Republican party, only 10 voted against it while 178 voted in its favour.
The deal just needs the backing of the Senate which may vote on the issue on Monday. But the Senate vote appears to be a formality given the fact that an identical Bill has already been approved by its Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.
"... What are we going to do on Monday? We may have to have a vote on the defence authorisation bill.... We've got to do the defence authorisation bill, we have to do Amtrak. We have to do the nuclear treaty with India," Reid said on the Senate floor on Saturday while urging his colleagues to drop their objections to the deal.
The Senate Majority Leader's remarks came against the backdrop of information that it is not a lone Senator who has placed a "hold" on the movement of the Bill of Approval of the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement in the Senate.
Sources have told PTI that the number of Senators who have placed a "hold" could be as high as five.
Though a Congressional consent eluded the deal when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush met on Thursday, the House approval came hours before the Prime Minister left the US shores winding up his five-day visit on his way to France.
The Bush Administration is keen on signing the deal, which will end three decades of nuclear apartheid against India, before the end of the term of Bush in January next year.
Bush hailed the House's adoption of the Indo-US nuclear deal as "another major step forward" in achieving transformation of bilateral ties and urged the Senate to take up and pass the "important" legislation quickly prior to its adjournment in the first week of October.
Prime Minister Singh said the landmark agreement is in the interest of India, the US and the world at large.
National Security Advisor MK Narayanan welcomed the adoption of the deal by the House saying it was a matter of great satisfaction. He expressed the hope that the Bill would get cleared in the Senate sooner than later rather than wait for the next session.
Hailing the House action, Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen said it would now be the last lap of a historic step for both the countries.
South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, one of the strongest supporters of the legislation and the agreement, hailed the vote saying it moved the US one step forward in strengthening the partnership with people of India.
However, Congressman Ed Markey, a known opponent of the Indo-US nuclear deal, said the passage of a bill on the subject by a 298-117 vote in the House was nothing to cheer about.
Despite the US Congress being busy in the midst of clearance of a package for the financial institutions gone bankrupt, the House met unusually on a Saturday for conducting business.
The vote on the nuclear Bill was suspended on Friday after Markey demanded a recorded vote instead of a voice vote after the debate was completed.
Berman had originally introduced a Bill that was slightly different from the measure approved by the Senate Committee and adoption of it would have delayed implementation of the nuclear deal.
He was talked to by Rice after which he withdrew his original Bill and introduced a legislation identical to the Senate Committee that ensured its quick passage.