Pelosi support boosts chances of quick approval of n-deal

September 12th, 2008 - 10:36 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 12 (IANS) Top US Congressional leaders have backed the India-US civil nuclear deal to brighten the prospects for the landmark agreement to be approved before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits Washington Sep 25.US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the Senate majority leader Harry Reid Thursday in indicating early approval of the agreement saying it “does have support in the House.”

Expression of her support came shortly after the White House announced that President George Bush had invited Singh to meet him in Washington “to strengthen the Strategic Partnership and build upon our progress in other areas of cooperation”.

“The President is pleased to approve the US-India Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation (also known as the 123 Agreement),” the White House said hours after Bush sent the implementing 123 agreement to the legislature.

“The President looks forward to working with Congress to ensure passage on the agreement this year,” it said in a statement as officials led by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice kept up the push to hasten the approval process.

“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,” it said.

Meanwhile, Pelosi told reporters here: “I hope that that work can be done so that we can take it up,” . However, “We don’t want it to be a precedent for saying many more countries will join” the nuclear club,” she added.

While the agreement “does have support in the House,” it must “honour the principles of” legislation Congress passed in December 2006 to lay the groundwork for negotiating the terms, she said referring to the US enabling law, the Hyde Act.

Mentioning that a “waiver” may be needed to strike the required 30-day waiting period for the approval legislation, Pelosi made clear that the India agreement shouldn’t set a precedent, saying stopping the spread of nuclear weapons is a “pillar” of US national security.

“What we do in India has to be seen, I think, in the context of a managed situation that does not send a message that it’s okay to proceed to a more nuclear state,” Pelosi said.

Reid has already indicated that he will press for early passage of the deal. He “will try to find a way to move it forward” this year, the Senate leader’ s spokesman Jim Manley said.

Joe Biden, the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate and a supporter of nuclear cooperation with India, too said Thursday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, could review the agreement in a hearing as soon as next week.

The support of lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Senate and House is crucial because only about three weeks remain before Congress is scheduled to recess Sep 26 for the year to campaign for Nov 4 elections.

However, there was still no word one way or the other from House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Howard Berman, who supports the deal, but had some reservations about the waiver given by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to India for nuclear trade.

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who has been leading the Bush administration’s efforts to beat the clock has met Pelosi, Reid and Berman besides calling up a number of key lawmakers to put the approval process on fast track.

A spokesman for Pelosi, who was earlier reluctant to hold a lame-duck session after the election, 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.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack has said that American companies having a “level playing field in the civilian nuclear industry in India has been very much a part of our discussion with India and with the Congress.”

“We believe American industry, wherever they are allowed to compete around the world, will do very well, regardless of the industry,” he told reporters.

If the lawmakers don’t agree to waive the rule requiring a resting period of 30 days for the legislation, 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.

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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