N-deal could happen in next two days: US envoy (Second Lead)

September 26th, 2008 - 12:19 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 25 (IANS) As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh arrived in Washington Thursday, the US raised hopes for wrapping up the nuclear deal with India, saying it could happen in the “next couple of days” despite its preoccupation with the financial crisis.”It is not impossible; it (nuclear deal) could happen in the next couple of days,” US ambassador to India David Mulford told reporters at the Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, near here.

“It is impossible to predict. It is not impossible; it could happen in the current session of the US Congress (Sep 26),” said Mulford.

“It is a tribute to the US Congress that despite preoccupation with the financial crisis, they have been able to move forward on the nuclear deal,” Mulford noted.

“There is a reasonable prospect for action by the US Congress,” the US envoy underlined.

President George W. Bush has pulled out all stops to fast-track the approval for the 123 bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 19-2 in favour of the accord at a business meeting Tuesday afternoon and sent the deal to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for scheduling a vote in the full Senate.

Manmohan Singh is slated to meet Bush later in the day.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will skip the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Bush as she works the phone from New York to get the nuclear deal done.

Rice “just took a look at her schedule” and “felt as though it was for her best to stay up here,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in New York Wednesday as the administration kept up its push to win Congressional approval for the deal.

“The fact that we have had intensive consultations with Indian officials over the past couple of weeks, nearly constant communication, I would say, about the civilian nuclear deal, that she felt as though it was for her best to stay up here,” he said.

Instead of Rice, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, “who has been deeply involved in this issue as well”, would represent the State Department at the White House meetings between Bush, Manmohan Singh and their top aides.

Rice was to join Bush at his “working dinner” with the Indian leader flying in from New York for just a few hours to meet the man with whom Bush visualised the landmark nuclear agreement in a joint statement July 18, 2005.

US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns will be among others present from the American side.

From the Indian side, Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the nuclear deal and climate change Shyam Saran and India’s ambassador to US Ronen Sen will be attending.

Asked if Rice’s decision to stay back represented in any way her confidence or lack of confidence, McCormack said: “Oh, no. Please - no, please don’t, in any way, interpret it as that. Like I said, this is an issue that she has really been quite seized with over the past month in a very intensive way.”

“As a matter of fact, I know that she was making calls to Capitol Hill from New York today about this issue. So, it should in no way be read as a diminution in her level of effort to try get this passed,” he said.

The spokesman said the administration was doing everything to get Congressional approval for this “very important step for American foreign policy and national security” even as the legislature grapples with the crisis to save the US financial system.

“I know it’s a busy time on the calendar up there, but this is a very important step for American foreign policy and national security,” he added.

McCormack said Rice had been making calls to lawmakers practically every day to get the India deal done. “I can’t tell you. I’m - it seems like it’s almost every other day or every few days she’s involved in a phone call up to the Hill,” he said.

Asked why was she still making calls though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s approval of the India deal had given it an impetus, he said: “Just - it’s good to stay - no, it - just because you have a phone call doesn’t mean there’s a problem.”

“What it means is she wants to stay in close contact with members of Congress, answer any questions, get their assessment of where we stand in the process,” McCormack said, adding, “It’s just good politics, I guess you could say, to keep open lines of communication on this.”

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