Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada), whose support is essential in ensuring that the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal gets scheduled for an early up and down vote in the Senate, has come out in support of the agreement.
Reid's endorsement comes at a time when community activists are busy lobbying lawmakers to ensure an early voting date on the House and Senate calendars once Congress reconvenes after the July 4 recess.
Reid, who was urged to back the deal by close friend and family physician Dr R D Prabhu, said, "India is a respected friend and partner of the United States. The world's largest democracy is a global power, with deep and strong connections to the United States."
"The two million Americans of Indian descent have enriched our nation in so many ways, and helped build even stronger ties between our two countries. The development of peaceful nuclear power in India can help address that country's fast-growing electricity need, without contributing to global warming like India's other energy alternatives," he added.
The deal, as presented by the Bush administration, is 'flawed,' he said, adding that however, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar and senior Democrat on the committee Joe Biden had addressed many of the flaws in their version and, most importantly, restored the role of Congress in overseeing the deal.
"I intend to support the Lugar/Biden legislation, and at the same time I will continue to look for ways to improve it, such as by ensuring that nuclear waste generated in India would never be stored in the United States," Reid said, adding that he believed that the deal will strengthen America's strategic partnership with India, while enhancing national security.
Reid's support assumes special significance as Lugar, in an interview with rediff.com immediately after his bill was adopted by an overwhelming margin of 16-2 in the Foreign Relations Committee, had said that the support of the Majority Leader as well as the Minority Leader were imperative for the speedy scheduling of a vote in the full Senate.
Prabhu, who has known Reid for nearly three decades, told rediff.com, "I met him several times to request him to support the deal, and now the Lugar/Biden legislation, and he promised that he would do so."
"The Senator's main concern was that he did not want any nuclear waste from India coming to America. We have the Yucca Mountain here, and everybody wants to store their waste in Nevada and he (Reid) did not want to support a bill, which will result in nuclear waste from India being sent to Yucca Mountain, or anyplace else in America for that matter," Prabhu said.
It is not idle concern -- Congresswoman Shelley Berkeley (Nevada) had, during the House International Relations Committee mark-up on June 27, also introduced amendments seeking assurances from the Bush administration that India would not make Nevada the dumping ground for its nuclear waste. The amendment, which called for the President to make an annual certification in this regard, was approved in committee without any opposing votes.
Prabhu said it is likely that during the Senate floor debate, Reid will introduce an amendment to allay these concerns.