Senate to vote on “very, very high priority” n-deal Wednesday

October 1st, 2008 - 12:35 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 1 (IANS) The India-US civil nuclear deal is expected to clear its last legislative hurdle Wednesday with the Senators agreeing to vote on the accord that’s a “very, very high priority” for President George Bush.The Senate would take up Wednesday morning the bill approved by the House of Representatives Saturday by a margin of 298-17 along with a couple of amendments relating to US reaction in the event of another nuclear test by India, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced.

But a vote on the approval bill would come only Wednesday “evening after sundown”, (early hours of Thursday India time) as no roll call votes are planned until then “in honour of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish) holiday”, Reid said Tuesday.

Unlike the House that needed a two-thirds majority for passage under suspension of rules, the 100-member Senate requires only 60 votes to approve the legislation after three and a half hours of debate.

Reid’s announcement Tuesday evening indicated that lawmakers had settled the differences that had stalled the measure in the upper chamber, where at least one senator, acting anonymously, had used the Senate’s rules to block the bill with a “hold”.

That behind-the-scenes efforts were on to win over the opposition was indicated by Reid’s earlier remarks at the start of the day’s proceedings. “We’re still working on agreement to consider the US-India nuclear agreement. I’m quite sure we can finalise that so there can be a vote on that tomorrow (Wednesday),” he said.

The two amendments reflect an attempt to make sure US nuclear exports do not help boost India’s nuclear weapons programme, according to media reports.

One of the draft Senate amendments would require the US president, should India detonate a nuclear weapon, to certify that no American technology or material supplied under the accord was used in the explosion. Another draft amendment would stop US nuclear trade if India should detonate a nuclear device.

Earlier, the White House 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.

Asked whether Bush has spoken to senators about it, deputy spokesman Tony Fratto said top administration officials have been in touch with key lawmakers.

“Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice and others have been in contact with the Senate… it’s a very, very high priority for us. We want to see it get accomplished. And Senator Reid does, as well,” Fratto said.

“We have been in very close contact with Majority Leader (Harry) Reid, who has committed to getting that agreement passed in the Senate. I don’t know if the president and Majority Leader Reid have specifically spoken about it recently, but I know our staff has,” he said.

Rice too said she hoped to get the deal settled. “I certainly hope that it can get done,” she told reporters at the State Department at the start of a meeting with Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz.

“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,”

Rice also praised the efforts of Reid and other senior lawmakers including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Foreign Affairs committee chairman Howard Berman and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden and its top Republican member Richard Luger.

“We certainly hope that we’ll be able to have this agreement,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said of the Senate vote. “And it’s (an) important agreement for the US and India. It’s got strong bipartisan support, so we hope to see it happen.”

President Bush is keen to secure an agreement at the earliest and the State Department has mounted an all-out effort, including phone calls and visits to Capitol Hill by Rice, to win passage.

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