US Senate poised to approve n-deal (Lead)

October 1st, 2008 - 9:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Oct 1 (IANS) The India-US civil nuclear deal appeared poised to clear its last legislative hurdle as the Senate began a debate on it Wednesday morning after overcoming objections from a few lawmakers.But a vote on the approval bill as passed by the House of Representatives Saturday by a margin of 298-117 will be taken only after sunset (early morning Thursday India time) in view of Rosh Hashanah Jewish holiday.

The Senate began a 60-minute discussion on the House approved bill HR 7081 at 10:15 a.m. (7:45 p.m. IST) as the first item on the day’s agenda on what the Senate majority leader Harry Reid said the leadership and the administration had worked “long and hard for months”.

The Senate is also set to take up two amendments introduced by Byron Dorgan and Jeff Bingaman, both Democrats, have introduced seeking to ensure that US nuclear exports to India do not help boost India’s nuclear weapons programme.

Given that the bill has wide bipartisan support for the India deal, the amendments are expected to be defeated. But their passage could complicate matters as the approval bill then would have to go back to the House as President George Bush who has given “very, very high priority” to the deal can sign into law only if identical bills are adopted by the two chambers.

The House approved bill also has a paragraph that the US can cease nuclear cooperation with India if New Delhi conducts a test.

The Dorgan amendment makes it more explicit saying, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the US may not export, transfer, or re-transfer any nuclear technology, material, equipment, or facility under the Agreement if the Government of India detonates a nuclear explosive device after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

Bingaman has proposed that if India detonates a nuclear weapon after the date of the enactment of the Act, the US President has to certify to Congress that no American technology, material, equipment, or facility supplied to India under the Agreement assisted New Delhi’s test.

Unlike the House of Representatives, which needed a two-thirds majority, the Senate requires only sixty votes to approve the legislation.

The Senate discussion began after Congressional leaders led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid overcame reported objections from five Democrats, Robert Byrd, Jeff Bingaman, Daniel Akaka, Russ Feingold and Tom Harkin, who had withheld “unanimous consent” to waive the 30-day waiting period for the India bill.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden, who is also the Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate too is reported to have helped bring the reluctant senators around.

The Bush administration, the Indian American community and the US business lobby hasd been pushing hard for the deal.

The White House Tuesday said the Indian nuclear deal awaiting Senate’s approval is on Bush administration’s “very,very high priority” and it wants to see this agreement getting accomplished.

Rice too said she hoped to get the deal settled. “I certainly hope much hope that it can get done, she told reporters at the State Department. “It would be a way to solidify what has been an extraordinary period in which US-Indian relations have reached the kind of deepening that is really appropriate for two of the world’s largest and great democracies,”.

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