Washington, June 29: The US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, like its House of Representatives counterpart two days ago, voted overwhelmingly this afternoon to endorse the Indo-US nuclear deal.
By 16 to 2 votes, the committee sent to the full Senate legislation enabling the implementation of the deal announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush here almost a year ago.
The committee’s chairman, Republican Richard Lugar, acknowledged that India’s two votes against Iran’s nuclear programme at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made it possible to convincingly line up his committee behind the deal.
“We have already seen strategic benefits from our improving relationship with India,” Lugar said moving an altogether new legislation on the deal to replace the one he piloted in March at the behest of the White House.
“India’s votes at the IAEA on the Iran issue last September and this past February demonstrate that Delhi is able and willing to adjust its traditional foreign policies and play a constructive role on international issues,” the Senator said.
Lugar was joined by the senior-most Democrat on the committee, Joseph Biden, in praising the relationship which the US is seeking to build with India.
The two Senators, who are on the opposite sides of the political divide came together and jointly crafted the new legislation.
It is broadly on the lines of a bill that was marked up for the full House on Tuesday, which is stirring up a political storm in New Delhi.
Lugar and Biden won over opponents of the deal in the committee by pointing out that “neither side got everything it wanted” in the “delicately balanced negotiation” that led to an agreement between Singh and Bush in March during the the latter’s visit to New Delhi.
Lugar said the agreement was in the national security interest of both countries and urged the full Senate to vote in favour of this legislation “without conditions that would kill the agreement”.
For India, there is a major difference between the bill moved in March on behalf of the White House and the one passed today.
Under the Bush Administration’s original proposal, a bilateral agreement detailing the modus operandi for implementing the deal, which is still under negotiation, would have entered into force 90 days after its submission unless the House and the Senate voted against it.
But the administration compromised with the Senators and agreed to submit the so-called 123 Agreement to the Congress for a positive vote.
One of the two Senators who voted against today’s bill was Barbara Boxer, a Clinton relative.
Three years ago, she was involved in a controversy over her alleged support for Naga rebels operating here.
The second “no” vote came from Russ Feingold, a presidential aspirant. Both are Democrats.