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Rice pushing for nuke deal before Sept 26

Sridhar Krishnaswami in Washington | September 18, 2008 17:57 IST
Last Updated: September 18, 2008 17:58 IST

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As the United States Senate prepared for a crucial hearing on the Indo-US nuclear deal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice [Images] was in the midst of another round of hectic lobbying with key lawmakers to secure Congress' approval of the pact before its session ends on September 26.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee' hearing later on Tuesday is seen as a positive sign in getting the endorsement of the Senate for the nuke deal with the Bush administration racing against time to get the clearance of the US Congress.

A number of US lawmakers meanwhile were coming out openly to persuade their colleagues for a quick approval of the landmark agreement.

Following up on a joint letter to fellow Congressmen, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, who has been a very strong supporter of the accord, called on fellow 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.

Rice briefed visiting MPs led by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi about the steps being taken by the Bush Administration to push the deal through Congress.

The top official is said to have told the delegation that after their meeting she was travelling to Capitol Hill to continue efforts to push the civilian nuclear initiative.

The move assumes significance as Rice is visiting Capitol Hill for a meeting with lawmakers who could play a key role in clearing the deal, just ahead of the major Senate hearing.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has not scheduled a hearing and senior aides in the House have pointed out that while hearings are educational they are not mandatory but optional.

Still, there is no word from the Chairman of the House Panel, California Democrat Howard Berman who is a known sceptic of the nuclear deal on non-proliferation grounds.

During the meeting with Ravi, Rice expressed happiness at the present state of the depth and width of the bilateral ties, while the Indian minister is said to have voiced satisfaction over the "right direction" of relations.

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

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.

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