Washington, July 27: Rising up to expectations, the House of Representatives has convincingly passed legislation to exempt Washington’s nuclear cooperation with India from the purview of America’s restrictive Atomic Energy Act.
The 359-to-68 vote approving the nuclear deal, between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush a year ago, was remarkable for three things.
The marathon debate in the House, in which about 25 legislators took part, went well beyond non-proliferation or electricity generation and showcased an across-the-board awareness among lawmakers here of an emerging India’s strengths and its destiny in the 21st century.
The debate, which closed well past 9 pm local time, demonstrated the networking and deals engaged in by the Indian lobbyists here and the Indian American community ' with the Indian embassy quietly working in the background ' with US lawmakers and political pressure groups.
Observers who watched the debate said it was only second to similar efforts by America’s powerful Jewish community.
The proceedings showed that Washington’s non-proliferation ayatollahs and others opposed to the deal with India would go to any length to scuttle it: they are now expected to take their battle to the Senate, which has to separately approve similar legislation and is expected to do so in September.
At least four amendments, which would have killed the deal because they were unacceptable to Delhi, died in the House Rules Committee on the eve of the debate in the full House. But two others made it to the full House, but were decisively defeated on the floor.
One of these would have insisted that India should halt all fissile material production for its nuclear bombs before the US could export any uranium to India under the deal.
Another amendment would have required the US President to certify that India did not increase the level of its domestic uranium production for use in nuclear weapons or divert it for bombs by taking advantage of nuclear fuel supplied by the US.
One of the most remarkable moments in the debate came when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, head of the Pakistan Caucus on Capitol Hill, took the floor and offered her support for the deal.
An arrangement had been worked out with her under which she was allowed to move a face-saving amendment. The non-binding, “sense of the Congress” amendment, which was unanimously accepted by the House, urged the US to continue its engagement “with and between” India and Pakistan.
Her amendment was seconded by Congressman Dan Burton, a life-long opponent of India. India considers Burton’s recent conversion in its favour to be a major trophy.
There were moments of anxiety when opponents of the deal tried to force the legislation back to a House committee, demanding that India should do more by supporting US actions to contain Iran.
The tactic won the support of nearly 200 members. But that was not enough. Had the move won, it was unlikely that the bill would have come back to the House this year.