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Bush administration gears up to push N-deal through Congress

September 07, 2008 18:06 IST

In a race against time, a buoyant Bush administration, happy at a rare foreign policy triumph, will try to push through the US Congress the nuclear deal with India after its ringing endorsement by the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group in Vienna [Images].
    
A clear indication of the administration's intent was given by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images], who said the time was short and she has talked to the heads of the Committees of both the houses of Congress for pushing through the deal.
    
"I have already talked before this NSG (meeting), several weeks before, to relevant committee chairs about trying to get it done, and I will have those conversations again, most likely on Monday or Tuesday, as well as trying to see whether the leadership believes that this can go forward," Rice told reporters in Algiers, the capital of Algeria while on a visit.
    
Rice, however said, the time is "very short," adding "we knew that in the summer, when the Indians were able finally to move this forward in their domestic process."

"But I think we have demonstrated the commitment of the administration to this agreement, because we have worked this with the very, very strong help of partners through the International Atomic Energy Agency and through the NSG in very rapid order," she said.
    
With a formidable hurdle cleared in the nuclear cartel, all eyes are now on the US Congress, which begins a short session on Monday, for ratification of the 123 civil nuclear cooperation agreement signed between President George W Bush [Images] and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] in July 2005 before the end of Bush's term in mid-January.
    
Normally 30 working days is the mandatory period required for a legislation to be passed in both the houses of the Congress but there are procedures for short-circuiting this period, a device that can be invoked by President Bush so that he is in a position to ratify the 123 agreement when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh travels to Washington later this month.

Such an initiative is widely expected from the Bush administration that is clearly short on foreign policy achievements under Bush other than the Indo-US nuclear deal.     

Rice has to send a "forward note" to the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a "confidential report" from the CIA that the legislation satisfies the non-proliferation goals.
    
Former Indian Ambassador Lalit Mansingh, a strong votary of the deal, feels it is entirely possible that the 123 agreement, is in its last lap, and could be pushed through the US Congress in the limited time that is available now.
     
Mansingh said as part of the quickening process a presidential determination on seven to eight aspects of the deal can made by Bush so that the Committees need not waste much time ahead of the 'up down' votes in which amendments cannot be made to the legislation, 'a take it or leave it' provision.      

The only snag, he feels, is the presence of maverick Democrat Howard R Berman, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a strong opponent of the deal who made public during the week the State Department's letter to his predecessor Tom Lantos, in an apparent bid to vitiate the chances of India getting the waiver at the NSG.

Still Mansingh is hopeful that even Berman could be persuaded to support the deal by the nuclear business lobby, the Indo-American lobby and the Jewish American lobby as after all the US Presidential candidate Barack Obama [Images] and his running mate Joseph Biden, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are strong votaries of the deal
    
In the event difficulties arise, the session of the Congress that is scheduled to last till September 26 could either be extended or a 'lame duck' session be called after the Presidential election in the first week of November to approve the 123 agreement.
    
Once the agreement gets Congress sanction, it overrides the domestic Hyde Act, which Indian opposition parties fear has 'harmful' provisions that could bind India's right to test atomic tests and other similar aspects.
    
Even in the the worst case scenario, Ambassador Mansingh believes, the legislation could be left to the next administration, which is also widely perceived to be 'pro-deal', to push the agreement through the next Congress because by then all the ground work could have been completed and there would be no need for short-circuiting the process.




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