It’s a deal: Senate gives 86-13 thumbs up to historic accord (Lead)

October 2nd, 2008 - 9:50 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Oct 2 (IANS) The India-US civil nuclear deal is finally done with the US Senate giving a resounding 86-13 approval to the historic accord visualised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush over three years ago.The Senate approval to the agreement allowing resumption of nuclear commerce with India, four days after an equally emphatic 298-117 endorsement from the House of Representatives, clears the decks for Bush to sign it into law, possibly Thursday.

Bush, who had hoped to seal the accord when Manmohan Singh visited him at the White House Sep 25, had made the India deal a “very, very high priority” of his administration even in the midst of America’s great financial crisis.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who led the administration’s efforts to secure passage of the passage of the deal with numerous meetings with endless phone calls to lawmakers is expected to carry the deal package to New Delhi Saturday.

There, she and India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee may sign the bilateral 123 agreement to operationalise the deal. Mukherjee, who is now in New York, would be returning home before the Rice visit.

The resounding vote for the approval legislation as passed by the House came at 8:49 p.m. Wednesday (6:19 a.m. IST Thursday) after the upper chamber rejected by voice vote a ‘killer amendment’ proposed by two Democrats, Byron Dorgan and Jeff Bingaman.

Both the presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain voted for the deal. So did former first lady Hillary Clinton and Obama’s vice presidential running mate, Joe Biden.

The Dorgan-Bingaman amendment sought to end nuclear cooperation with India in the event of New Delhi conducting a test. The House legislation has a similar provision, but the passage of the amendment would have sent it back to the lower chamber for reconciliation as the president can sign into law only an identical measure.

Earlier, as the Senate began a debate on the deal Wednesday morning Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying the Bush Administration would prefer a “clean legislation” without any new amendments.

But she also held out an assurance that a nuclear test by India would result in “most serious consequences”, including automatic cut-off of US cooperation as well as a number of other sanctions.

Seeking passage of the bill, Christopher Dodd, acting chairman the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it would send a strong signal of US support for a new relationship between the two countries after years of cool ties.

Noting India’s proximity to Pakistan, China and Afghanistan, Dodd said there were also “compelling geopolitical reasons” to move forward with a process begun by former President Bill Clinton and continued by Bush.

Richard Lugar, top Republican member in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it a “historic moment” that would help cement “a strategic partnership with a nation that shares our democratic values and will exert increasing influence on the world stage.”

Describing the India deal as “one of the most important strategic diplomatic initiatives undertaken in the last decade,” he said: “By concluding this pact, the US has embraced a long-term outlook that will give us new diplomatic options and improve global stability.”

The two also opposed the Dorgan-Bingaman amendment describing it as “unnecessary” as “existing law does exactly what my colleagues are asking us to do today.”

“Is this a perfect bill… absolutely not. But if we allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good we will find ourselves, I think, in a far more serious situation than the one Senator Dorgan and Senator Bingaman described to you,” Dodd said.

Dorgan insisted on pressing the amendment saying the accord, “will almost certainly expand the production of nuclear weapons by India” and help dismantle the architecture of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

He also criticised the speed of action on the “gravely flawed agreement”, saying, “Never has something of such moment and such significance and so much importance been debated in such a short period of time and given such short shrift.”

Bingaman acknowledged “the deep and very important ties” with “India a great leader in technology that needs to be our ally on a number of issues,” but said the agreement would make India a de facto nuclear weapons power without the responsibilities of an NPT signatory. “India gets to eat its cake and eat it too.”

Another opponent Democrat Tom Harkin suggesting “there is nothing in this legislation to prevent India from resuming nuclear weapons testing,” called the House approved bill “a grave mistake.”

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