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Voting on nuclear deal postponed till Friday

world Updated: Sep 26, 2008 10:01 IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday hoped that the Indo-US nuclear deal would be approved in a manner "satisfactory" from the point of view of both the countries as he met President George W Bush in Washington but could not ink the agreement in the absence of a Congressional nod.

Bush, on his part, assured Singh that his Administration is "working hard" to get the deal approved "as quickly as possible" after the House of Representatives postponed till Friday debate and vote on a bill on the landmark pact.

It is understood that the House, which was considering a bill introduced by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman, has put off the voting due to pre-occupation with the financial bailout package and some other issues.

"We want the (123) Agreement to satisfy you and get it out of our Congress. And so we're working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible," Bush told reporters at the Oval office in the White House after a 40-minute meeting with Singh.

"I sincerely hope that the settlement which is now before the US Congress will be approved in a manner which will be satisfactory from the point of view of both our countries," the Prime Minister said.

"And when the history is written, I think it will be recorded that President George W Bush played a historic role in bringing the two democracies closer to each other," Singh, who acknowledged Bush's efforts in bringing the "massive transformation" of the India-US relations, said.

Bush said the deal, signed by the two leaders in July, 2005, has taken "a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part".

It was in US interest to have a "good, strong strategic relationship with India and we've worked hard to achieve that...One such sign of that relationship is the India-US civilian nuclear agreement," Bush said.

Singh said he was mentioning civil nuclear initiative because for 34 years India has suffered from a "nuclear apartheid".

"We have not been able to trade in nuclear material, nuclear reactors, nuclear raw materials. And when this restrictive regime ends, I think a great deal of credit will go to President Bush. And for this I am very grateful to you, Mr President," the Prime Minister said.

Singh flew in from New York for the meeting with Bush with expectations in the Indian side that the Congress would have completed the business of legislating on the deal the two leaders entered into in July, 2005.

After a lot of drama and suspense, Congressman Berman, a strong opponent of certain provisions of the deal, introduced a bill in the House which was almost identical to the one that was overwhelmingly adopted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a rider that all nuclear assistance to India would cease if New Delhi conducts a test.

However, his bill had an extra paragraph that would require the Senate and the House versions to be reconciled in a committee with the involvement of the administration also.

Berman was persuaded to drop killer amendments including one on Iran that could have sabotaged the legislation following which he introduced the bill.

With the House putting off the vote and the full Senate yet to take up the measure, the deal will be literally down to the wires tomorrow, the last day of the Congress session if it is not extended further.