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US lawmakers push nuke deal

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | September 18, 2008 15:24 IST

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As the clock keeps ticking away for a Congressional nod to the Indo-US nuclear deal, a number of lawmakers are coming out openly to persuade their colleagues for a quick approval of the landmark agreement.

South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, who has always been a very strong supporter of the accord, has called on the lawmakers to pass the measure in an expedient manner so that  it can be beneficial to both countries.

The senior Congressman has written a letter to all his colleagues in the House of Representatives throwing his weight behind the deal and appending an article written in The New York Post that backed the agreement.

"Dear colleague, I would like to refer your attention to the September 15, 2008 New York Post article written in support of the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement," he said.

As co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Wilson said, he is pleased to see the historic agreement winning approval from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

"India has a sterling record of non-proliferation, a policy of no-first use for nuclear weapons, and the focus of the agreement is to promote peaceful civilian nuclear cooperation. Passage of this measure in an expedient manner will be beneficial to both of our countries," Wilson wrote.

A similar letter has already been circulated to all the 435 members of the US Congress, signed by Democrats Gary Ackerman, Joseph Crowley and Frank Pallone as also Wilson and California Republican Edward Royce.

Wilson has also written to the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard Berman, urging him to mark up the civilian nuclear agreement.

But that mark up opportunity came and went on Wednesday when the House Committee dealt with assistance to Georgia. Contrary to some speculation, the issue of the nuclear deal did not even merit mention during the full committee deliberations on Georgia.

"We thought India was going to come up this week," a Senior Republican Congressional aide told PTI during the mark up proceedings making the point that the legislation will be passed but there is only the question of timing.

"The administration is bringing to bear all of its race horses on Congress to have this agreement approved," the top aide commented adding, it is becoming even more apparent that the Congress will be coming back for a Lame Duck session possibly around December 8.

That the administration is working furiously to have the accord cleared by the "target" adjournment date of September 26 is evident from the manner in which senior officials are going about it.

During a meeting with Indian Parliamentarians at the State Department on Wednesday evening, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] is said to have remarked that after the meeting she is "rushing" to Capitol Hill for consultations with lawmakers on the civilian nuclear accord.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to hear from Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns on the agreement today. In the absence of Senator Joseph Biden who is on the campaign trail as the Democratic Party's Vice Presidential nominee, the hearing will be chaired by senior Senator Christopher Dodd.

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