Bush invitation to PM a pointer to fast n-deal approval (Lead)

September 11th, 2008 - 11:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 11 (IANS) President George W. Bush Thursday invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the White House Sep 25 in a major indication that the historic India-US civil nuclear deal may be close to be inked, sealed and delivered.The invitation to Manmohan Singh with whom he had signed a joint statement July 18, 2005, to set the nuclear ball rolling came hours after Bush asked the US Congress to approve the implementing 123 accord to end a three decades old ban on nuclear exports to India.

A White House statement announcing the invitation “to strengthen the Strategic Partnership and build upon our progress in other areas of cooperation” said Bush “looks forward to working with Congress to ensure passage on the agreement this year”.

But coming as it did after three days of hectic efforts led by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to push the Congress to hasten the approval process indicated that she might well have persuaded key lawmakers to get the deal approved before the legislature takes a break Sep 26 for the Nov 4 election.

“The conclusion of this agreement, which completes the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative, has been a priority for both President Bush and Prime Minister Singh, and strengthens the US-India Strategic Partnership,” the White House statement said.

“This historic achievement will bolster international non-proliferation efforts, provide economic and business opportunities in both countries, and help India address its growing energy needs in an environmentally responsible manner,” it said.

President Bush also looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Singh to the White House on September 25, 2008, to strengthen the Strategic Partnership and build upon our progress in other areas of cooperation, such as agriculture, education, trade, and defence,” the White House statement added.

The success of Bush administration to get the deal to end India’s nuclear isolation approved by the Congress before Manmohan Singh’s visit to the White House hangs on three key players.

The Democrat trio, the speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Senate majority leader Democrat Harry Reid and House foreign affairs panel chairman Howard Berman hold the key to putting the approval process on fast track.

Of them, Reid has indicated he will work to win approval this year of the accord, but it was still unclear what view Pelosi and Berman would take.

Rice has met all the three top Congressional leaders to discuss how to move the deal forward with the lawmakers without insisting on a rule that requires a resting period of 30 days for the legislation.

Alternatively, the Congress could come back for a lame-duck session after the election to approve the “Hyde Amendment package” as the paperwork sent to the Capitol Hill is called.

“Senator Reid indicated that he would try to find a way to move it forward, and will consult with the (Senate) Foreign Relations Committee and the Republican leadership to try and find a way to do so,” his spokesman Jim Manley was quoted as saying.

Asked if that meant Reid would try to advance the deal this year, he said, “Yes.” But the position of Pelosi, who is reluctant to hold a lame-duck session after the election is unclear.

So is that of Berman, who supports the deal, but had some reservations about the waiver given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to India for nuclear trade.

A spokesman for Pelosi said after her meeting with Rice Tuesday that she looked forward to reviewing the formal agreement in detail and to consulting on the matter with her colleagues, including Berman.

Apart from meeting Reid, Pelosi and Berman, Rice has been working on the phone to drum up support for quick passage for the deal with calls to key lawmakers including Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Joe Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden is an avid supporter of the deal

The Bush administration pulled out all stops to push the deal after it helped win India a waiver for nuclear trade from NSG removing the last hurdle in presenting the deal to the US Congress.

India had crossed the first hurdle by reaching an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an additional safeguards protocol for its civilian nuclear facilities.

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