Bush team hopes early vote on India nuke deal

Bush administration officials calls Indo-US nuclear deal a centrepiece of a new strategic relationship with India.

india Updated: Oct 22, 2006 19:54 IST

Bush administration officials, calling the India-US civilian nuclear deal a centrepiece of a new strategic relationship with India, are hoping the Senate will vote on the enabling bill early in the planned lame-duck session.

"We were really hoping it would be voted on" in the session beginning two days after the November 7 congressional elections, The Washington Times on Friday quoted Undersecretary of State R Nicholas Burns as saying in an interview with its reporters and editors.

The administration was "sorry" the Senate vote did not come off last week before it went into recess, he said describing the nuclear pact as key to the burgeoning relationship between Washington and New Delhi, strongly backed by President George Bush.

US backers of the India deal also say they plan a major lobbying push over the next month to ensure a final vote on the bill before Congress adjourns for the year, the influential US daily reported.

Sanjay Puri, executive director of the US India Political Action Committee, said his group was "obviously disappointed" about the Senate's failure to act, but he added he was "cautiously optimistic" that the deal remained on track for passage in 2006.

The agreement could cement ties with an emerging South Asian economic and military power, while opening the way to billions of dollars in business for US firms, he said. The US Chamber of Commerce also has lobbied energetically in support of the accord.

"There's good support on both sides of the aisle," Puri said. "The issue now is just to get the bill on the calendar for a vote."

Republican and Democratic leaders have blamed each other for the Senate's failure to take up the enabling legislation before it went into recess in the early hours of Saturday after a marathon 17-hour session racing through several other bills.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said last week that Senate Democrats had failed to agree to an expedited debate on the bill in the closing days of the regular session.

But Capitol Hill staffers cited by Washington Times said part of the delay was due to reservations by Republican lawmakers over an unrelated provision added to the bill regarding US obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Minority Democratic Leader Harry Reid has dismissed as "nothing but pure fiction" allegations by Frist and the Indian American Republican Council that he and his fellow Democrats sabotaged the legislation from coming to the floor in order to deny Bush a major foreign policy victory before the November elections.

"The Republicans control the Senate, and on any day from July to when we went out of session, any day, the Majority Leader could have put that on the floor. The only time he (Frist) said he wanted to move it is in the last day or two we were in session," he is reported to have said.

Reid reiterated his commitment to take up the bill as soon as the Senate begins its business session on November 13. "I told him (Frist) that I said so publicly on the Senate floor before millions of viewers that that should be the first thing we take up when we get back."

However, "It's all up to the Republicans. I want it to be the first thing we do. It's all up to them; we are willing to do it. We've been willing to do it since July, " he said.

The House passed its version of the enabling bill in July. Even if the Senate votes in the lame-duck session, lawmakers still must reconcile the differing House and Senate versions of the bill before Bush can sign it into law.

Failure to send the bill to the White House before the end of the year would mean the new Congress elected in November would have to start the process from the beginning in 2007.

First Published: Oct 07, 2006 10:19 IST