US Congress may not pass US-India Nuclear pact: report

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Washington, Jul 9 (UNI) India's civil nuclear agreement with the US may have cleared a key hurdle in New Delhi this week, but it appears unlikely to win final approval in the US Congress this year, the Washington Post reported, quoting administration officials and congressional aides.

The daily said it raises the possibility that India could begin nuclear trade with other countries even without the Bush administration's signature deal.

It recalls how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh struggled to keep his coalition government intact over the controversial deal to give New Delhi access to US nuclear technology for the first time since it conducted a nuclear test in 1974. This week, he secured an agreement with the Samajwadi Party to back the deal.

But the legislation passed in 2006 -- the so-called Hyde Act -- that gave preliminary approval to the US-India agreement, requires Congress to be in 30 days of continuous session to consider it.

The daily quotes Congressional aides saying that clock can begin to tick once India clears two more hurdles -- completing an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and securing approval from the 45 nations that form the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which governs trade in reactors and uranium. Because of the long August recess, less than 40 days are left in the session before Congress adjourns on September 26.

''At this point, both (the IAEA and NSG actions) have to take place in the next couple of weeks'' for the deal to be considered by Congress, said Lynne Weil, spokeswoman for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But the IAEA Board of Governors is not expected to take up the matter until August, whereas the NSG might take several months to reach a consensus.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat) has repeatedly insisted there will be no lame-duck session after the November 4 (Presidential) elections. There would be little incentive for the Democratic majority to hold a lame-duck session if, as expected, the Democrats significantly gain seats.

President Bush's agreement with India, considered a key part of his foreign policy legacy, is designed to solidify Washington's relationship with a fast-emerging economic power. Mr Bush and Dr Singh agreed to the pact in July 2005, but it has faced repeated delays and opposition in both the countries.

The daily said now with the near impossibility of congressional passage by year-end, officials and experts have begun to focus on the possibility that other countries -- such as France and Russia -- would rush in to make nuclear sales to India while US companies still face legal restrictions.

UNI XC PD PM1739

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