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Closing N-deal very difficult now: US Senator

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 16, 2008 02:33 IST

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Indo-US Nuclear Tango

Senator Joseph R Biden, Jr, the chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be the key player in moving the US-India civilian nuclear agreement forward in Congress if India succeeds in getting in back on the Congressional court expeditiously, says it may be possible to get the deal consummated this year, but that it's going to be in terms of a best-case scenario a photo-finish.

In a brief interview with when this correspondent buttonholed him after a news conference he held in the Senate press gallery to unveil a landmark legislation on Pakistan to provide that country with billions of dollars in additional economic assistance, Biden while lauding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] for deciding to go ahead with the deal notwithstanding the withdrawal of the Left Front, when asked if the deal could still be completed before the Congress adjourned, said, "It's possible, but it's very, very tight."

"We spoke about this three months ago in New Delhi when I met with the prime minister you remember, and so, it's going to be very, very tight because it has to go through the International Atomic Energy Agency and you got to get the Nuclear Suppliers Group signed off," he recalled.

"(And) once that occurs, under our law, there is a 30-day of continuous session -- which will taken about 50 days to get there," he added.

However, Biden pledged, "I am going to push like the devil... and, if they (India) get their end done to do it," he would endeavor to get the agreement completed, but reiterated, "it's going to be very, very tight."

Asked flat out if he believed the clock has already run out, Biden said, "I am an optimist. I am not going to say it has run out."

"I compliment the prime minister in making the move he's made and we are going to do everything we can to help accommodate it, but I think it's going to be very, very tight," Biden added.

Asked if President Bush could call for a lame-duck session after the general election explicitly and solely to get Congress to vote on the deal, Biden first said, "He could, yes, he could." But, then he quickly retracted saying, "Well, no, let me back up. Once you call a lame-duck session you are in session and so, he may call it for the purpose of trying to get the US-India nuclear deal done, but he cannot limit the session to consider only that."

"So, the President would have a real issue here and it would be real interesting to see what would happen. Is it possible? Yes. And, I am going to do all I can as long as the prime minister is pushing to accommodate the possibility of us considering the deal, if he gets the sign off as is required from the IAEA and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. But it's going to be very tight," Biden said.

Biden continued to repeat that he had explained all of these constraints to the prime minister when he visited with him in New Delhi along with two other senior members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- Senators John F Kerry, a Democrat like Biden, and Chuck Hagel, a Republican -- who had also impressed upon him that time was running out, and the window was "very, very narrow, and we told him that three months ago."

"I am not being critical, I am not making a judgment about his internal politics," Biden said, "I am just saying it's going to be very difficult."

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