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Efforts on, but nod for N-deal may take longer

world Updated: Sep 23, 2008 23:05 IST
V Krishna
V Krishna
Hindustan Times
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Indian-American groups and the administration continued their efforts on Tuesday to secure approval for the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement in this session of Congress. But with attention focused on the country’s financial crisis and some lawmakers still harbouring reservations, it appeared unlikely that the deal would be ratified by the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush meet Thursday in Washington.

“Schedule the vote in this Congress, clinch a vital partnership with India”, a full-page advertisement in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call urged members on Tuesday morning. The ad was sponsored by the US-India Friendship Council and the Asian American Hotel Owners Association and supported by a number of other organisations.

Up to 100 Indian-American activists were expected on Capitol Hill for “A Day of Advocacy”. A strategy meeting was planned over lunch at a downtown hotel, with briefings by US officials.

Afterwards, “we will knock on doors individually”, said Swadesh Chatterjee of the friendship council, which is coordinating the push. Among the 30-40 lawmakers they plan to meet are five senators who still object to the deal, including Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia.

The agreement was not on the agenda for a meeting Tuesday afternoon of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which held a hearing on the issue last week. But a source said the committee might still send the agreement to the full Senate for a quick vote.

The House of Representatives Committee on International Relations is yet to take up the matter.

This session of Congress is scheduled to end on Friday, but an extension appears likely. “We will have a clearer picture by Wednesday,” said Ashok Mago of the US-India Forum.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal agency advising the administration and Congress, has urged Bush to raise concerns about religious freedom in India at his meeting with Singh.

“The US government can and should urge the Indian central government to make more vigorous and effective efforts to stem violence against religious minority communities,” commission chair Felice D. Gaer said in a letter.

The current violence in Orissa represents the second major outbreak of religious violence in the state in 10 months, the letter says. “There are also new reports of attacks against Christians and Church properties in several southern states, including Karnataka and Kerala.”