N-deal likely to be wrapped up by September-end (Overall Lead)

September 9th, 2008 - 9:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi/Washington, Sep 9 (IANS) With the NSG approval in place, the US Tuesday said that it was hopeful of presenting the bilateral civil nuclear pact for Congressional approval “in a few days” with a possibility of it being wrapped up during the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington later this month. Manmohan Singh is to embark on a tour of the US and France Sep 22-Sep 30.

US ambassador David Mulford did not rule out a “lame duck session” after the presidential polls in November to approve the deal if it was not passed in the current session ending Sep 26.

“We hope to get legislation before the US Congress in a few days (which will lead to the approval of the 123 pact),” Mulford told reporters here.

He said the pact could be signed during the visit of the Indian prime minister to Washington, likely Sept 26.

In Washington, the Bush administration Monday pulled out all stops to enlist support of key legislative committees and staffers to bring the US-India nuclear agreement before Congress for a final up-down vote There are “good signs”, as the White House put it, for its approval by the US Congress, sooner or later.

Stressing on the “bipartisan” support that was there in the US Congress during the passage of Hyde Act, Mulford said in New Delhi that he was hopeful that the Congress would waive the mandatory 30-day period required for presenting an international pact.

Spelling out the precise sequence of steps required for the Congressional approval, the envoy said the presidential determination would be made in “a couple of days” after getting relevant documents, including India’s safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the text of the waiver granted to India by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG).

After the presidential determination, the administration would press for an amendment to existing rules to get around the 30-day period. This would be followed by an up-and-down vote in both Senate and House of Representatives, which would set the stage for formal signing of the pact between the two countries.

But if the Congress fails to approve the 123 pact in the current session, there is a possibility of a lame duck session which may be called to approve the pact to enable full civilian nuclear cooepration between India and the US.

The US envoy also assured that if the bilateral pact was not approved during the tenure of the George Bush administration, the prospects of the deal going through would be “greatly enhanced” under the new dispensation, specially after the NSG waiver which he insisted was a “clean” one.

In Washington, officials went into an overdrive to prepare what is being called the “Hyde package” for the US Congress as it convened Monday for a short session.

While the Senate panel chair Joseph Biden, who is also the Democratic vice presidential candidate, is quite supportive of the deal, his counterpart on the House panel, Howard Berman, is unwilling to agree on a shortened procedure unless he is convinced that the NSG waiver is in conformity with the Hyde Act.

However, some see signs of flexibility in Berman’s latest statement that “the burden of proof (that the NSG decision is consistent with the Hyde Act) is on the Bush Administration so that Congress can be assured that what we’re being asked to approve conforms with US law,” Berman said.

To win over the sceptics, the Bush administration is trying to convince Congress for early action by arguing that technically India can start cooperation with other NSG countries after the NSG waiver and this would disadvantage American companies in the race for India’s nuclear pie running into billions of dollars.

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