As President George Bush prepares to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next week, a key Senate panel may Thursday clear one more hurdle in the way of the India-US nuclear accord. But unless a House panel's Democratic Chairman Howard Berman too schedules a quick hearing to take similar action, Bush's hope of getting the deal done before he meets Manmohan Singh at the White House Sep 25 may be dashed.
The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, headed by Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden, has called America's third top diplomat, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, William J. Burns, to testify on the implementing 123 agreement Thursday.
With Biden, an avid supporter of the deal campaigning, fellow Democrat Chris Dodd will preside over the first Congressional move on Bush's request for quick approval of the landmark accord following Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver for India for nuclear trade.
While the Senate panel is widely expected to not only recommend the deal to the full senate for approval, but also waive a mandatory 30-day waiting period for the legislation to be considered, a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is yet to be called. The deal has the backing of top Congressional leadership including speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid besides broad bipartisan support in the Democratic controlled Congress.
However, Berman who supports the India deal but has some reservations about the NSG waiver for India, is yet to be persuaded despite Bush administration' s concerted efforts led by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
In one more attempt to bring Berman around, Joe Wilson, Republican co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, has written a letter to him seeking support for "passage of the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement."
"I respectfully request that you consider including this historic agreement in the next House Committee on Foreign Affairs' mark-up so the full House will have an opportunity to vote on this measure before our scheduled adjournment," he wrote.
Wilson also joined a group of lawmakers across the political divide in asking all colleagues in the 435-members US House of Representatives to support expeditious approval of the agreement before the Congress breaks off Sep 26 for the Nov 4 elections.
Besides Wilson, the letter to colleagues was signed by fellow Republican Edward Royce and Democrats Gary Ackerman, Joseph Crowley and Frank Pallone.
"As past and present co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, we are asking you to support this agreement which provides for peaceful nuclear cooperation between the two democracies," they said.
Meanwhile, The US-India Business Council (USIBC), the largest trade group in Washington comprised of more than 300 US companies with major investments in India, said after the Sep 6 NSG waiver for India and the international atomic energy agency (IAEA) clearance "It's now time for Congress to act."
"NSG clearance permits every country but the United States to compete for a share of India's nuclear pie until our US Congress ratifies the Hyde Act - making it law," said USIBC President Ron Somers eyeing an estimated $100 billion business opportunity.
"Russian and French nuclear companies are already swooping-in to participate in India's vast civil nuclear build-out. Our companies are sitting on our hands watching hopelessly from the sidelines," he reminded the lawmakers.
Critics of the deal too moved into action with the Arms Control Association and the Campaign for Responsibility in Nuclear Trade organising a letter to the lawmakers from "a group of independent non-proliferation experts, former US ambassadors, faith groups, and international security and disarmament organizations."
The letter sent to all 535 members of Congress Sep 10 urged them "to actively support measures that would help address the numerous flaws and ambiguities in this proposal," and "resist overtures to rush toward a vote without carefully considering the far-reaching nuclear non-proliferation and security implications of this unprecedented and complex arrangement."