Bush races against time to keep n-deal date with Manmohan (Lead)

September 16th, 2008 - 1:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 16 (IANS) It’s a race against time, but George W. Bush, in the dying months of his presidency, is trying hard to ensure he is able to sign the much-extolled nuclear agreement with India when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits the White House Sep 25. While a furiously lobbying US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is leading the administration’s push at the Capitol Hill to persuade House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Democratic Chairman Howard Berman to put the deal on fast track, the White House is reported to have roped in even the Indian American community to influence reluctant senators.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee headed by Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden has already scheduled a hearing on the India deal Sep 18. However, Berman, who supports the India deal but has some reservations on the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver for New Delhi, is yet to initiate the process.

The two presidential candidates - Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain - as also the leaders of the two chambers, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid all support the deal.

But under the Congressional rules, the two foreign affairs panels have to recommend the implementing 123 bilateral agreement to the lawmakers for adoption and suggest how to go about it so that the deal could be done before they leave town Sep 26 for the Nov 4 election.

As the influential Washington Post reported Monday, “Rice has been lobbying furiously for the India deal, which appears to hinge on whether the White House can persuade Howard Berman” to agree to waive a 30-day waiting period before Congress can vote on the accord.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, who has taken the place of Nick Burns, Washington’s former pointsman on the nuclear deal, and negotiated the last mile at the NSG meeting in Vienna, will be the sole witness at the Senate panel hearing on the nuclear package sent to Congress by Bush Sep 10.

As part of its strategy, the Bush administration is not only banking on wide bipartisan support for the deal in the legislature, but also the strong business lobby eyeing a $100 billion in nuclear trade with India.

The administration itself has advanced this argument at the Capitol Hill that American businesses stand to lose by any delay in Congressional approval as the NSG waiver allows India to strike deals with other nations, notably France and Russia waiting in the wings.

It is also impressing upon the Indian American community to do its bit as it did in December 2006 in the run up to the passage of the US enabling law, the Hyde Act.

So much so that the White House in an unusual move is reported to have held a conference call with a select group of Indian community leaders and a few other Americans who are lobbying hard for the nuclear deal to influence reluctant senators.

As the Hyde Act was passed by an overwhelming 359-68 vote in the Congress and an equally emphatic 85-12 margin in the Senate, the Bush administration is not unduly concerned about the passage of the 123 agreement when it finally comes before the Congress for an up or down or yes or no vote.

But the Senate’s complex rules could put paid to all the administration’s well laid out plans as even a single senator could come in the way of the necessary “unanimous consent” to put the deal to vote. White House officials who came on the conference call with the Indian-American community are reported to have named 10 senators who are likely to oppose the nuclear deal.

Besides Berman they too would have to be persuaded not to come in the way of a vote if Bush has to keep his date with Manmohan Singh to toast the historic deal.

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