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Getting deal past US House hard, not impossible

world Updated: Jul 10, 2008 02:18 IST
HT Correspondent

While the Congress party girds up for a confidence vote in Parliament over the India-US nuclear deal, time may have run out for the pact in the US Congress, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The agreement, which gives New Delhi access to US nuclear technology, must win final approval in the US Congress. The Hyde Act that gave preliminary approval to the deal requires that Congress be in 30 days of continuous session to consider it, the paper said. Congressional aides told the paper that the clock can begin to tick only once India clears two more hurdles — completing a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and securing a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Because of a long August break, less than 40 days are left in the session before Congress adjourns on September 26, the Post said.

“At this point, both (the IAEA and NSG actions) have to take place in the next couple of weeks” for the deal to be considered by Congress, said Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is not known exactly how much time the IAEA and the NSG will take, but they are unlikely to move that fast.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly insisted there will be no lame-duck session after the November 4 elections, the Post said.

But the administration has said it will push for the deal, considered a key part of President Bush’s foreign policy legacy, till his last day in office.

An Indian American businessman who played an important role in lobbying for the deal is cautiously optimistic. Swadesh Chatterjee of Cary, North Carolina, told HT that the task of getting the bill through Congress is “difficult but possible”.

Even if Congress fails to approve the agreement, all may not be lost for India, the Post said. Once the safeguards agreement and the NSG waiver are in place, countries such as France and Russia would rush to make nuclear sales to India while US companies would still face legal restrictions.

The paper said a State Department official suggested the administration would use that awkward situation to pressure Congress not to thwart potential business opportunities for American companies. “It is the hidden force of this agreement,” the official said. “It is US business that sees an opportunity.”