N-deals sails through US House; may clear Senate Monday (Lead)

September 28th, 2008 - 10:27 am ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghWashington, Sep 28 (IANS) As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended his US visit, the landmark civil nuclear deal sailed through the US House of Representatives and appeared poised to clear the Senate soon despite a new hitch.President George Bush, who had hoped to present the accord that he sees as a hallmark of his presidency as a done deal to the Indian leader during his five-day visit, if not at their Sep 25 meeting at the White House, hailed the overwhelming 298-117 House vote and urged the Senate to quickly follow suit.

“I urge the Senate to quickly take up and pass this important piece of legislation before their October adjournment,” to “help strengthen our partnership with India,” he said amid indications that the Senate leadership was working out ways to get round a “hold” placed on it by an anonymous senator.

“Signing this bipartisan bill will strengthen our partnership with India,” Bush told the senators as he congratulated the house for taking “another major step forward in achieving the transformation” of the two countries’ relationship.

Hearing of the glad tidings at a gala reception for Indian-Americans in New York, a couple of hours before heading to France, a beaming Manmohan Singh said: “I should thank George Bush for this.”

“The India-US nuclear deal is in the interests of India, the US and the world at large,” he said expressing confidence that the deal will complete “the last lap” soon.

With the Congress planning to be in session next week also as it grapples with the Bush administration’s $700 billion Wall Street bailout plan to rescue the US financial system, the Senate approval of the implementing 123 accord may come as early as Monday and surely before the Congress takes its delayed break for the Nov 4 election.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated as much as he urged his colleagues to drop their resistance, noting that under special rules for consideration of the nuclear deal it can ultimately be brought to a vote despite the “hold”- a legislative device that can be used by even a lone senator to block a fast track vote.

“For people who are concerned about the Indian nuclear agreement, and there are several senators that have concerns about that, all we would be doing is running out the time,” Reid said after the House vote.

“There’s statutory time we have. … We can run that out. At the end of that time, senators have 10 hours of debate time and then we vote. So there are very few hurdles we have to jump on that,” he added.

Speaker, Nancy Pelosi too hailed the House approval of the agreement saying the deal “would further the two countries’ strategic relationship while balancing nuclear non-proliferation concerns and India’s growing energy needs.”

The House, which had put off a formal vote on the India deal Friday night after a 40-minute spirited debate, approved it at 4:45 p.m. Saturday (2:15 a.m. IST Sunday) with the required two-thirds majority under suspension of rules.

Among those favouring the deal were 178 Republicans and 120 Democrats. Only 10 Republicans voted against the agreement, while 107 Democrats registered their opposition to the accord in the 435-member Democrat controlled House.

While six Democrats did not vote another party member, Bill Foster of Illinois, simply marked himself “present”. From the Republican ranks, 11 did not register their preference.

Though the vote demonstrated massive bipartisan support for the agreement that would let India resume nuclear commerce with the US after 30 years, it was far short of the 359-68 backing by which the enabling US law, the Hyde Act, was passed in 2006.

Earlier, the deal found wide bipartisan support in the House as it took up the issue Friday night with key lawmaker Howard Berman, who had reservations about the implementing 123 agreement, himself moving the approval legislation.

Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed to bring forward a bill identical to one approved by an overwhelming 19-2 vote Tuesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after the Bush administration convinced him that it was in consonance with the Hyde Act.

But the House had to postpone a recorded vote when critics led by Democrat Ed Markey insisted on one after a voice vote on the bill to “approve the United States-India Agreement for Cooperation on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, and for other purposes.”

“Flashing a green light (to India) sends a dangerous signal to all of those countries,” defying international rules on nuclear activities, said Markey referring to Iran, North Korea and Venezeula.

As the House took up the India deal for debate, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who had played a key role in bringing Berman around, sent a letter to the Speaker Pelosi saying approval of the landmark accord will clear the way to “deepen the strategic relationship” with India.

The Congress has an “unprecedented and historic opportunity” before it to ensure that the US and India “complete the journey we began together three years ago,” she wrote referring to the July 18, 2005 Joint Statement of Manohan Singh and President Bush.

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