The Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement moved a step closer to approval by Congress on Tuesday with the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee voting to send it to the full Senate.
The 19-2 vote came soon after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s arrival in New York for a UN General Assembly session. But it was unclear whether ratification would be completed by the time Manmohan and President Bush meet on Thursday in Washington.
“Today’s committee passage is significant, but several steps remain before this bill becomes law,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden, chairman of the panel and Democratic vice-presidential candidate. “I hope Congress can complete the job in the few days remaining before adjournment — and I’ll continue fighting as hard as I can.” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: “We are doing everything we possibly can ... to get this passed in this session of Congress.”
The United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement bill says the agreement will be subject to the Hyde Act, the Atomic Energy Act and other US laws. “It is the understanding of the United States that the provisions of the ... agreement ... have the meanings conveyed in the authoritative representations provided by the President and his representatives to Congress and its committees prior to September 20”.
If transfers are suspended or terminated under U.S. laws, the bill says, it will be “the policy of the US to seek to prevent the transfer to India of nuclear equipment, materials or technology from ... any other source.”
The agreement was not on the committee’s agenda but was added at the last minute.
Biden and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, on the campaign trail, voted by proxy. Democrats Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer voted against the bill.
National Security Adviser MK Narayanan, a key interlocutor in the N-Deal, who did not travel with the PM, is joining the PM’s delegation in the US. But, hopes for an immediate signature on the 123 agreement while the PM is in Washington on Thursday have dimmed.