M A I N   N E W S

Rice busy working the phones
Holds talks with Congressman Berman, Biden

Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to get a complete “package” of the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement to Congress for an up or down vote “within the next 24 to 48 hours,” a State Department spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Rice is leading an effort to apprise members of Congress of the details of the India-specific waiver granted by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) over the weekend. She wants a speedy approval of the deal.

Rice met California Democratic Congressman Howard Berman on Tuesday.The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had earlier placed the onus on the Bush Administration to convince lawmakers that the NSG waiver truly reflects the Hyde Act passed by Congress to enable civilian nuclear cooperation with India.

A spokeswoman for Berman confirmed the meeting had taken place but declined to divulge the nature of the discussion. Both Rice and Berman were accompanied by their staff to the meeting.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Tuesday morning said Rice had “made a lot of calls” and had “a lot of meetings coming up” in connection with the nuclear deal. “From her perspective, this is a full court press working with Congress. She is busy working the phones,” he said.

Among the lawmakers Rice has contacted so far are Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Biden, a supporter of the nuclear deal, was picked by Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama to serve as his running mate.

Rice has also spoken with others in the congressional leadership, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. Ros-Lehtinen is the Republican co-chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Rice intends to reach out to a number of other representatives and senators, including those who originally opposed the deal when it first came up for consideration. “So we are reaching out to everybody, supporters as well as those who may be on the fence, those who oppose,” McCormack said.

McCormack said the Bush Administration was going to do “everything we possibly can” to move the deal forward in Congress. “The Secretary made very clear to her staff today, she wants to get the full Hyde Amendment package of materials that the Congress says it needs from us and that’s required by the legislation up to the Hill within the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said.

India still needs to take certain steps, which McCormack described as “some final pieces,” before this package can be sent up to Congress. With the congressional session set to expire on September 26,the Bush Administration officials are mindful of the tight timelines they have to work within. “But we’re committed to doing everything we can with the Indians, and we know they’re committed as well. They’re working as hard as they can. And we’re committed to working with the Hill to get this done,” McCormack said.



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