M A I N   N E W S

US House of Representatives okays N-deal 298-117
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from New York

The House of Representatives in Washington on Saturday evening (Sunday morning in India) approved a civilian nuclear cooperation Bill that will lift a three-decade-old ban on nuclear commerce between the US and India.

The Bill was approved on a 298-117 vote. Voting in favour were 120 Democrats and 178 Republicans.The opponents included 107 Democrats and 10 Republicans. The margin was smaller than the 359-68 vote in favour of the Hyde Act, that set the goalposts for the nuclear deal in 2006.

President George W. Bush thanked House lawmakers who helped pass the legislation and called the development “another major step forward in achieving the transformation of the US-India relationship”. The deal now faces a hurdle in the Senate where a group of senators is preventing it from getting to the floor of the chamber for a vote. Bush urged the Senate to pass the legislation before its October adjournment.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, addressing a gathering of Indian Americans in New York on Saturday evening, triumphantly announced that the nuclear deal was “nearing fruition”. The news of the House vote broke just minutes before Singh arrived for the reception at the Starlight Roof of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. “The India-US nuclear deal is in the interests of India, the US and the world at large”, Singh said while expressing confidence that the deal would complete “the last lap soon”. Speaking to reporters in New York, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan expressed the hope that the Bill would get cleared “in this session itself”.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he wants to take up the Bill for a vote as early as Monday. He urged his colleagues in the Senate to drop their opposition to it. “For people who are concerned about the Indian nuclear agreement, and there are several senators that have concerns about that, all we would be doing is running out the time”, Reid said after the House vote.

The version of the Bill passed by the House is identical to that is with the Senate. Indian officials have in private expressed their dissatisfaction with the contents. A senior Indian official said on Saturday evening that Delhi would be able to “live with” the Bills in their current form.

Indian Americans who have been working closely with lawmakers on Capitol Hill told The Tribune the Bush Administration was mindful of Delhi’s concerns and would likely seek to scrub the irksome language from the Bills before they reached the President. Once approved in the Senate, the two versions of the Bills must be reconciled through a process known as a conference to iron out any differences.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the deal “would further strengthen the two countries’ strategic relationship while balancing nuclear non-proliferation concerns and India’s growing energy needs”.

In Washington, California Republican Ed Royce urged senators to take up the Bill for a vote. “The time for Senate action is now, there is no time to waste”, he said, adding, “ failure to send the U.S-India civilian nuclear agreement to the President for his signature would be a big setback to the U.S.-India relationship. Too many of us have worked far too hard to see that happen”. South Carolina Republican Congressman Joe Wilson said the House vote “moves us one giant step forward in strengthening our nation’s partnership with the people of India”.

New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman took note of the criticism of the deal: “Critics have expressed concerns regarding the agreement’s impact on our non-proliferation policy and clearly Iran, Pakistan and North Korea are all looking for clues about what this deal means for them and their nuclear programmes”, Ackerman said, adding,” I think the message is clear: if you want to be treated like India, be like India”.



One hurdle crossed: PM
India has sought a change in the date of Condoleezza Rice visit (October 3) since Pranab Mukherjee may not be in New Delhi when she arrives
Ashok Tuteja on board PM’s special aircraft

Despite his best effort, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not suppress a smile after the US House of Representatives approved the Indo-US nuclear deal, saying one hurdle has been crossed.

Talking to reporters on his way from New York to the French port city of Marseille to attend the India-EU summit tomorrow, he said: “One hurdle has been crossed, but it is not the end of the Congressional process and we need to wait for the final outcome,”

Noting that the 123 agreement would have to be approved by the US Senate before the historic deal could be operationalised, he expressed satisfaction over his talks with President George W. Bush in Washington.

Earlier in New York yesterday, Singh appeared jubilant as soon as news came in that the House of Representatives had approved the deal. Although the approval came a day after the PM celebrated his 76th birthday, he had the satisfaction that the voting process had been completed before he left the shores of the US.

National security adviser M.K. Narayanan said it was a matter of great satisfaction that the House had approved the deal while US ambassador to India Ronen Sen said the pact was good for both India and the US.

Asked when the Senate approval for the deal was expected, Sen said: “I can’t comment on their internal political processes.”

Meanwhile, official sources said India has serious concerns over the manner in which attempts were being made by Washington to distort the language of the mutually agreed text of the 123 agreement, particularly the presidential determination in which Bush said the assurance of fuel supplies was not legally binding and merely a political commitment.

“We have conveyed our concerns to the Americans...they have assured us that these concerns will be duly addressed.”

In fact, President Bush also told Singh that his administration was doing its best to quickly wrap up the deal, which would ultimately be to India’s satisfaction.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit New Delhi on October 3 when the deal is expected to be signed between her and external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. However, sources said India had sought a change in the date of her visit since Mukherjee would not be in the capital when she arrives.



Bush finds Manmohan ‘congenial’ company
Ashok Tuteja on board PM's special aircraft

''You are such a calming influence,'' President George W Bush told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as he welcomed the Indian leader in Washington on Thursday in the midst of back-to-back meetings he was holding to finalise a financial package to deal with the economic meltdown.

''I can't think of meeting any other at this point of time,'' Bush emphasised reflecting the personal chemistry they had developed ever since they reached a historic civilian nuclear energy cooperation understanding on July 18, 2005, sources privy to the discussions between the two leaders disclosed.

As he landed in Washington, Singh was under the impression that he might be imposing himself on President Bush at a time when he was busy tackling domestic economic crisis. He asked national security adviser M K Narayanan to inquire from his American counterpart Stephen Hadley whether the meeting between the two leaders needs to be shortened. Hadley conveyed to the Indian side that President Bush found himself in the 'most congenial' company when the Indian Prime Minister was around.

The two leaders discussed the entire range of bilateral ties, including the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The President sought to remove New Delhi's apprehensions on the deal, saying the pact would ultimately be to India's satisfaction. The situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan also came up for review. Both President Bush and Singh were not sure whether new President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari would be able to deliver but hoped he was successful in transforing his commitments into action in dealing with terror.

Bush and Singh also discussed the bottlenecks in concluding the Doha round of WTO talks. In this context, Singh said he would ask commerce minister Kamalnath and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia to sit with their US counterparts and try to resolve the differences. The dinner at the Old Family Dining Room in the White House was described by the sources as extraordinary.

''Oh Jesus,” President Bush remarked when he was given a detailed briefing on India's huge energy needs by Narayanan.

The sources said the meeting between the two leaders was a smooth affair in which no demands were made .



India consults US on terror
Ashok Tuteja on board the PM’s aircraft

With terrorists striking at will in major Indian cities during the recent months, India is consulting US intelligence agencies to see if it could learn from the American experience in tackling terror.

National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan held extensive talks with the chief of the Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies during his stay in New York to know about the steps the Americans have taken to combat the threat posed by terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist incidents in the US.

Among others whom he met was Charles Allen, under secretary of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. The briefings were quite exhaustive and the NSA spent more than seven hours with them, top governments sources said. “Due to the fact that they (Americans) have not had any major incident since 9/11, we were keen to learn from their experience,” top government sources said.

Noting that the system to deal with terror attacks in the US were draconian, the sources wondered whether it could be implemented in India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, stressed the need to tighten intelligence gathering and strengthening of investigation and prosecution processes in the wake of yesterday’s blast in Mehrauli in South Delhi.



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