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'Finally, Congress party showed some spine'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 12, 2008 00:28 IST

The Indian American community and US business that had lobbied feverishly for the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, are euphoric over the recent developments where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] has decided to go ahead with the accord come what may and even in the wake of the Left coalition partners withdrawing their support and leaving the country in a state of political uncertainty.

We are in the process of making history: Dr Singh

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has also hailed India's decision to submit the draft safeguards agreement to the International Atomic Energy Agency to be circulated among its board of governors, calling it "a significant step," and declaring that Washington is "fully committed to do everything it can to move the pact forward to its conclusion."

Swadesh Chatterjee, coordinator of the US-India Friendship Council, the umbrella body of Indian American political, community and specialty organizations that coalesced to push through the enabling legislation through Congress as a first step to make the deal happen, said, "We are all so rejuvenated after the prime minister's decision to go through with it."

Special: The Indo-US nuclear deal explained

"We feel so good that finally the Congress party had the spine to understand what is good for the national interest and call the bluff of the Left," he told

"And, I am glad that other parties like the Samajwadi Party and its leaders like Amar Singh are supporting the deal."

Thus, he said it is unlikely the Left would be in a position to "pull the government down now. So, I am really delighted at the news that the government is moving forward, because as you know, and as I had told you, the community had given up all hope."

'Deal or no deal, the Left would have withdrawn'

Chatterjee reiterated, "So, it is wonderful that finally it is coming through, although there are tremendous task ahead to get it through the Congress and put in on the calendar before the Congress adjourns for the year. But, at least, things are moving."

He said he had already "started to mobilize the community and we have begun to have conference phone calls with people and all of them are feeling really good and as we did earlier, we are going to be working together and I've already had a long meeting with the US-India Business Council and the Coalition for Partnership with India and all the other people and we're hopeful that we can pull it through."

The India-IAEA Safeguards Agreement

Chatterjee, continued to acknowledge, "It will be a humungous task mostly because of the logistical issue of bringing it back to Congress in time for it to be voted on. I have already spoken to (Senator Joe) Biden's people and I've talked to (Congressman) Gary's (Ackerman) people and I am going to go and see all of them next week."

Biden is the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ackerman is a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the subcommittee on South Asia.

Chatterjee said, besides Biden and Ackerman, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Howard Berman, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who has been opposed to the deal from the start and had introduced killer amendments during the debate and vote on the enabling legislation on the House floor, "will be the key players to get this done in time."

'Not enough time to pass n-deal in US'

"So, we have started the process already and we are going to bring back all the people -- all the community leaders to once again put their shoulder to the wheel to get this done," he said.

Chatterjee conceded that "true, they were all disappointed, frustrated, angry when things were not moving in Delhi, but we are Indians after all, and when it comes to the motherland, we always come forward. So, I am confident we can bring all the people back together."

He acknowledged that "it's not a case of the majority vote in the House and Senate -- we know we will get that. But, it's just a matter of time and whether there will be enough days in the Congressional calendar to get it done in this session, and of course, all of this depending on how quickly India can send back the 123 Agreement and how soon the US can get the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) to endorse the deal."

'The people of India are for nuclear deal'

Chatterjee said that "we are also trying very hard and trying to put some pressure on (Secretary of State Condoleezza) Condi Rice to bring back (former Under Secretary of State and chief US negotiator of the agreement) Nick Burns back as a consultant to pull it through because he's the guy who understands this deal inside and out and he understands the NSG and the entire process and it's very close to his heart."

"He's worked very hard on this and he has great rapport with the key players in Congress and so, he's the ideal person to have at this moment to get it done and so it's crucial that we have him back," he added.

Burns, since retiring from the State Department over five months ago, has been spending time with his family and weighing his options in terms of joining the private sector, but hasn't committed to any specific company or organization yet.

'India-IAEA agreement worse than useless'

Ron Somers, president of the USIBC, also told that "we have been closely following the breaking developments, including the very positive joint statement by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," after their meeting on the outskirts of the G-8 Summit in Japan [Images] last week.

"Obviously, when the ball comes back into the court of the United States Congress, the US business community through the US-India Business Council and its Coalition for Partnership with India will be at the forefront pushing for speedy and expedited ratification of the 123 Agreement," he said.

Somers argued that "this is just a huge and extremely important and historic opportunity, not just for our countries but for the globe. Indeed, this is an energy security imperative and it's an environmental imperative good for all nations."

"So, it's about time that India's nuclear isolation is ended and US industry will be front and centre on Capitol Hill when the ball returns into our court to ensure speedy ratification of the 123 Agreement," he reiterated.

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