Washington, Sep 27: The Indo-US Nuclear deal suspense is still not over. The House of Representatives of US Congress postponed a formal vote from Friday, Sep 26 night to Saturday, Sep 27. The reason for the advancement despite clear support for it in a show of hands was due to the absence of required quorum -two-thirds of the members were not present in the House.
The House on Friday, Sep 26 actually did debate the bill after Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Howard Berman - a known deal baiter - came out in support of the bill, saying integrating India into the global non proliferation regime was a positive step.
Berman, introduced the agreement to lawmakers, and aides believed a vote Friday, Sep 26 was on likely, but Congress was dealing with a full legislative agenda as it nears recess until after the Tuesday, Nov 4 general elections.
"And before anyone gets too sanctimonious about India's nuclear weapon programs, we should acknowledge that the five recognised nuclear weapons states have not done nearly enough to fulfill their agreements under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including making serious reductions in their own arsenals, nor - in the case of the United States - ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," Berman said.
The next step of the deal is to get a nod from the US Senate which is likely to happen in the next weekend.
US President George W Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inked the deal in 2006. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the accord on Tuesday, Sep 23. Legislative aides predict the agreement will pass both chambers.
The push by the Bush administration to pass the deal was aided by US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice - who in a letter to the Congress made an appeal to pass it.
In her letter, Rice said, "Congress had an unprecedented and historic opportunity" before it to ensure that the US and India complete the journey we began together three years ago. I am writing to express my strong support for the 'United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act',"
Indian officials says Rice is now expected to visit India soon, a signal the deal formalities may be completed then. At the US Senate side, last minute hitches appear to have cropped up.
An anonymous lawmaker in the Senate has put a 'hold' on consideration of the Bill in the Senate, which must be lifted before the agreement is brought to its floor or approved by a Unanimous Consent Agreement. However, it is not clear to what provisions of the Senate Bill that a lawmaker is objecting to. The "hold" process involves a law maker telling the Majority leader and Minority Leader that he/she is against the 'hot-lining' of the Bill without debate and vote through Unanimous Consent.
Bush met with Manmohan Singh on Thursday, Sep 25 at the White House and assured him that the US administration was working to win prompt passage of the deal before the current congressional session ends in the coming days.
"It's taken a lot of work on both our parts, a lot of courage on your part," Bush said. "And so we're working hard to get it passed as quickly as possible."
Since the two leaders signed the deal, both countries have been in complicated negotiations to implement it, mainly to ensure that US technology could not be used in India's nuclear weapons programme.
India's refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is designed to prevent the spread of dangerous nuclear material, complicated the negotiations and remains a sticking point in Congress.