The Bush administration launched "a full court press" to present the India-US civil nuclear deal to the Congress within the next 24 to 48 hours with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leading the drive to woo the lawmakers.
Rice worked the phone through the day calling the Congressional leadership to win quick approval for the implementing 123 agreement and made a rare visit to the Capitol Hill to meet Speaker Nancy Pelosi and influential lawmaker Howard Berman, who supports the nuclear deal, but has reservations about the nuclear suppliers' waiver for India.
"From her perspective, this is a full court press working with the Congress...We think that there is a possibility of getting this passed this year and we are going to do everything we possibly can," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "Whether it does or not, it's not going to be for lack of effort."
Rice had instructed her staff to try and send the paperwork to Congress within the next 24 to 48 hours, he said.
It's "a full court press with the Indians as well," McCormack said when asked if New Delhi had provided the necessary assurances regarding making "significant progress" toward an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NSG waiver.
"There are certain - some final pieces that we need to work with on them," he said. "So that all needs to be fed into this package. Clearly, the timelines are tight, to say the least.
"But we're committed to doing everything we can with the Indians, and we know they're committed as well. They're working as hard as they can. And we 're committed to working with the Hill to get this done," McCormack said.
Rice called on Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, after he declined to waive the rules for quick approval of the India deal unless he was convinced by the administration that the exemption given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is consistent with the US enabling law, the Hyde Act passed by Congress in Dec 2006.
"The burden of proof is on the Bush Administration so that Congress can be assured that what we're being asked to approve conforms with US law," Berman said Sunday after the NSG waiver was announced.
Besides meeting Berman, Rice called ranking Republican on the panel Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden among others. She was also scheduled to speak with Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid.
Rice "also intends to reach out to a number of other representatives and senators, including those who originally opposed the deal when it first came up for consideration," McCormack said. "So we are reaching out to everybody, supporters as well as those who may be on the fence, those who oppose."
Berman's office declined to give details of the meeting, saying "It was a private meeting," but it is believed that Rice discussed with Berman the modalities of winning approval for the nuclear deal in the 110th Congress, set to adjourn Sep 26 to allow the lawmakers to campaign in the Nov 4 election.
The Hyde Act and the US Atomic Energy Act require the nuclear deal package to sit on the Capitol Hill for 30 continuous legislative days before the Congress takes it up for approval in an 'up or down' or a yes or no vote.
Congress needs to waive the 30-day requirement in order to get approval for the deal before it adjourns or hold a lame duck session after the election.
Democrats, who control both houses, may be keen to deny President George Bush a foreign policy victory at the fag end of his term, but the Bush administration and the Indian government are banking on the massive bipartisan support the agreement got when it was first introduced in Congress, with more than 85 per cent of law-makers backing it.
McCormack declined to get into the procedural aspects of how the administration was going to get around the 30-day resting period issue, but said talks were on with the Congress on how they see the way forward.
"The final decision as to which parliamentary route to take is one that solely resides within the purview of the Congress. Of course we want to see it completed and to see it passed. You know, the first step is whether or not you can have this put up for consideration for a vote, various obstacles notwithstanding," McCormack said.