Nuclear race against odds - PM & Bush need a miracle

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 26.09.08
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Washington, Sept. 25: Barring a miracle, the nuclear deal is unlikely to be operationalised during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with President George W. Bush today.

Refusing to give up, the Bush administration is leaving no stone unturned. On a day of fast-paced developments, the US House of Representatives bypassed its foreign affairs committee, moved for suspension of normal business and introduced a bill for approving the deal directly in the full House.

In spite of these extraordinary measures, this chamber of the US legislature faces an uphill task in passing the bill today (American time) because 43 other Congressmen and women have tabled similar measures of their direct concern for immediate consideration of the House.

The silver lining, however, is that of the 44 pieces of legislation tabled for consideration by suspending all other business, the nuclear deal is listed as the ninth item on the House of Representatives agenda at the time of writing.

Capitol Hill sources said even if the House were to approve the nuclear deal today, there was still no agreement in the Senate on how to secure the legislation for operationalising the deal.

The Democrats in the Senate are in favour of attaching the deal to a “continuing resolution”, a legislative term that denotes the US equivalent of a vote-on-account in India to fund the government when it is not possible to present a full budget.

But till mid-morning in the US, the Republicans were favouring a “clean” continuing resolution without any attachments because they fear that extraneous subjects will invite controversy and delay passing the appropriations.

With the approval of a continuing resolution by Friday, the US government will grind to a halt on October 1 when the new fiscal year begins. Money for government activity is sanctioned at present only till September 30.

The bill for approving the nuclear deal was introduced in the House of Representatives at the time of writing by the senior-most Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

However, efforts were under way at that time to secure the support of the committee’s chairman, Howard Berman, who introduces such legislation by convention. Berman is opposed to the nuclear deal in its present form.

A source of worry for India is that the measure included on the agenda for the House of Representatives is at variance with the one approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the day the Prime Minister arrived in New York.

A different piece of legislation in the House of Representatives can complicate matters and delay the nuclear deal because of a need to reconcile the versions passed by the two chambers through a “conference” committee of the Senate and the House.

India is not entirely happy with the text of the legislation. Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and the Prime Minister’s special envoy Shyam Saran rushed to Washington from New York last night to get the language changed, but have been unsuccessful so far.

Another signal that the deal will not be operationalised during Singh’s meeting with Bush today came when it was announced here that US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will not be present at the Prime Minister’s talks with the President in the White House.

Rice is the architect of the deal on the US side and has relentlessly worked for its operationalisation at every stage. Bush administration officials, however, said no meaning should be read into her absence from today’s meeting while she is tied up in New York at the UN General Assembly.