US House of Rep approves N-deal

September 28, 2008

The Indo-US nuclear deal has moved into the last lap clearing a major hurdle when the House of Representatives approved a legislation on it that will now go to the Senate, before the two countries can implement the civil nuclear agreement.

After a lot of drama and suspense, the House passed the Bill on an unusual extra day of sitting on Saturday with bi-partisan support but a considerable number of Democrats were still opposed to it.

The Berman Bill H R 7081, named after Howard Berman, a Democrat strongly opposed to the deal on non-proliferation grounds and who converted only a couple of days ago, was adopted with 298 voting for and 117 against. One lawmaker merely voted present.

The deal just needs the backing of the Senate which may vote next week on the issue. But the Senate vote appears to be a formality given the fact that an identical Bill has already been approved by its Foreign Relations Committee earlier this week.

Though a Congressional consent eluded the deal when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush when they met on Thursday, the House approval came hours before the Prime Minister left the US shores winding up his five-day visit on his way to France.

Once the Senate gives its nod, the nuclear agreement between the two countries will be ready for signing between External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is slated to visit New Delhi on October 3.

The Administration is keen on signing the deal before the end of the term of Bush who had entered into the agreement with Singh more than three years ago that will end three decades of nuclear apartheid against India.

Welcome move

National Security Advisor M K Narayanan welcomed the adoption of the deal by the House, saying it was a matter of great satisfaction. He expressed the hope that the Bill would get cleared in the Senate sooner than later rather than wait for the next session.

Hailing the House action, Indian Ambassador to US Ronen Sen said it would now be the last lap of a historic step for both the countries. The deal enjoyed bi-partisan support and was good for both India and the US.

South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, one of the strongest supporters of the legislation and the agreement, hailed the vote saying it moved the US one step forward in strengthening the partnership with people of India.

Despite the US Congress being busy in the midst of clearance of a package for the financial institutions gone bankrupt, the House met unusually on a Saturday for conducting business.

The vote on the nuclear Bill was suspended on Friday after another opponent Ed Markey demanded a recorded vote instead of a voice vote after the debate was completed.

Berman had originally introduced a Bill that was slightly different from the measure approved by the Senate Committee and adoption of it would have delayed implementation of the nuclear deal.

Berman was talked to by Rice after which he withdrew his original Bill and introduced a legislation identical to the Senate Committee that ensured its quick passage.

Joe Wilson said he was grateful for the work of President Bush, Prime Minister Singh and Rice for their steadfast support in seeing this agreement implemented.

Earlier, the House completed a lively debate that saw Markey putting up a stiff opposition to the deal with India. However in the Senate, an anonymous lawmaker put a “hold” on consideration of the bill which must be lifted before the agreement is brought to the Senate floor or approved by a unanimous consent agreement.

The latest hiccup in the Senate is actually a counter to the attempt of the leadership to “hotline” the Senate Bill through unanimous consent without debate and vote.

The schedule of the Senate is still fluid but it is meeting on Sunday and re-convening on Wednesday after taking a break on Monday and Tuesday on account of Jewish holidays.

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