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US sees 'good signs' for N-deal approval

world Updated: Sep 09, 2008 11:29 IST
Arun Kumar
Highlight Story

The Bush administration sees "good signs" for early approval of the India-US civil nuclear deal with the White House asking the Congress to "act soon" and officials working overtime to present it to the legislature.

"We urge Congress to act soon on this important measure," White House spokesperson Dana Perino said on Monday as the US Congress convened for a short session scheduled to end Sep 26 to allow the lawmakers to campaign for the Nov 4 elections.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "and her team will be working very closely with members of Congress over the next several weeks to see if we can get this done in a timely fashion", she said.

"I would say that signs for it to be able to pass are good, given the bipartisan support it's enjoyed in the past," said Perino. "I don't think that anything has changed in that regard. So if they are able to get anything done, this could be one of them."

The flurry of activity for the removal of the last hurdle in the way of the India-US nuclear deal - ratification of the implementing 123 agreement by the US Congress - began soon after US won a waiver for India from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) Saturday after three days of tough talks in Vienna.

The US enabling law, the Hyde Act and the US Atomic Energy Act require the agreement to sit on Capitol Hill for 30 days and then give the Congress 60 days to take an "up and down" or a yes-or-no vote without any amendments vote.

As the present Congressional schedule does not allow enough time to meet the 30-day requirement, the Bush administration is looking for ways to bypass the rule, but that requires bipartisan support in both chambers.

Before that, the administration also needs to send the Congress a "package" of seven presidential determinations that certify completion of all pre-requisites stipulated by the Hyde Act.

These include the NSG waiver and a certification that India has made "substantial progress" toward concluding an agreement with the IAEA on an "additional protocol" of safeguards to verify it is using civilian nuclear facilities only for peaceful purposes.

At the State Department, spokesperson Sean McCormack told reporters: "As we speak, we have people working on that package that is required by the so-called Hyde amendment, the Hyde amendment package."

"So we are busily working on that, we, the US government, in preparing to submit that to the Congress. Admittedly, the time here is short, and there's a brief window before Congress goes out of session.

"As you've heard from the secretary, as well as from the White House, this administration is committed to trying to move that agreement forward," he said.

The spokesperson said the administration has had "a lot of conversations with key members of Congress, that will fundamentally, hold the fate of this agreement, at least for right now, for the current time, for this Congress, in their hands".

The Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman and the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joseph Biden have also been spoken to, he said.

While Biden, now the Democratic vice presidential candidate, is quite supportive of the deal, Berman is unwilling to agree on a shortened procedure unless he is convinced that the NSG waiver is in conformity with the Hyde Act.

"We're going to do everything we can to hold up our end of the bargain. Congress has a say in this," said McCormack.

"We think it is an important agreement. We think it's important to move it forward. It's good for America. It's good for India. It's good for bringing on line alternative sources of energy. It's also good for the international non-proliferation regime."

Back at the White House, Perino too said the India deal "really does deepen the US-India relationship on many levels, and it will help meet India's surging energy needs, as well as help us bring India along as a solution to helping solve the challenges that we face on global climate change".

"It increases jobs for Indians and for Americans. It increases innovation and competition. Civil nuclear energy is the way of the future if we want to power this country in a way that is clean, renewable, and does not emit greenhouse gases."