It?s over to you Mr Bush | india | Hindustan Times
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It?s over to you Mr Bush

THE SECOND step of the Indo-US nuclear deal will be selling the separation plan to the US Congress. Getting a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to vote to give India the technology and fuel rights of a recognised nuclear power.

india Updated: Mar 03, 2006 01:36 IST

THE SECOND step of the Indo-US nuclear deal will be selling the separation plan to the US Congress. Getting a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to vote to give India the technology and fuel rights of a recognised nuclear power.

The biggest pitfall is seemingly mundane. The US Congress has only about 80 legislative days left in the year. Because of congressional elections in November, only constituency-focused bills are being considered. "George Bush will have to start lobbying the day he returns," say Indian embassy officials in Washington.

New Delhi wants the vote through before the summer. Any later, they fear, and time could run out.

There are other dangers.

First, support for the nuclear deal is "broad but shallow", warn diplomats. India is the flavour in Washington, says an ex-US diplomat.

But that support can be dissipated easily -- like an Indian vote on Iran. Some unknown could upset the apple cart.

Second, the nonproliferation lobby is expected to hit out at India's decision to keep the breeder reactor off the civilian list. Their influence is strongest among Democrats.

Ambassador David Mulford warned last year that Bush will need Democratic votes as not all Republicans can be expected to back the deal.

Third, Bush's poll ratings are rock bottom. Many congressmen, say Indians who visit Washington, have nothing against India but are angry with Bush. Whether anti-Bush sentiment will translate into an anti-India vote is hard to judge. "Bush will now have to hold the hand of each and every congressmen," says a Washington think-tank expert.

On the plus side:

One, many key lobby groups — like corporate America, the Indian-American community and some chunks of the media -- have come out in favour of the nuclear deal. There is support also in important US agencies like the Pentagon.

Two, the White House has asked Senator Richard Lugar to put together the congressional consensus on the deal. A moderate Republican widely seen as a "wise old man" on US foreign policy, Lugar privately backs the deal.

When Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran went to Washington last, Condoleezza Rice told him that Lugar would be the most important man to meet. He is expected to deflect a lot of anti-Bush sentiment. One US think-tank expert believes, "The Senate is already in the bag."

Three, the separation plan is seen by Indian and US negotiators as fulfilling congressional demands on "transparency" and "credibility". As an Indian embassy official notes, "Only two congressmen have publicly come out against the deal so far, which is a good sign."