Washington: The United States Senate is due to vote on legislation intended to ratify the US-India civilian nuclear agreement today. The Bill, according to Congressional sources, will be taken up for consideration at 10 am (7.30 pm IST) on Wednesday, October 1, but voting is likely to take place much later (October 2 for India) on account of the Jewish festival of Rosh Hoshanna.
According to political observers, the fact that the Bush administration has persuaded the Senate to take up the vote alongside the financial bail-out debate and vote, which is taking place on the same day, is a measure of the importance that it attaches to this deal. Being highlighted as the centrepiece of Washington's strongly developing strategic ties with New Delhi, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has reportedly convinced Senate elders to give the Bill final approval before her scheduled visit to New Delhi on 3 October.
It is expected that there would be some measure of opposition to the Bill in the Senate as well, keeping in mind the determined attempts by the non-proliferation lobby to kill the deal.
The Bill has evinced strong support from US and Indian industry and business leaders and has strong support within the Senate as well. It remains to be seen if the Bill is passed in a form that is acceptable to India.
On Tuesday, Senate majority leader, Democrat Harry Reid, announced that the chamber would take up the US-India nuclear agreement legislation, including two amendments that seek to determine US response to any Indian nuclear test.
According to reports, one of the amendments demands that in the event of an Indian nuclear test, the US president should certify that no American technology or material supplied under the accord was used in the explosion.
Another draft amendment would stop US nuclear trade in the case of an Indian nuclear test.
The 123 agreement provides that the circumstances surrounding a nuclear test by India would be taken into consideration before any punitive action is undertaken.
India has already firmed up an agreement with the French on nuclear trade and supply during a visit to the country by the Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. The visit came on the heels of his visit to the United States where he had hoped to sign the Indo-US nuclear accord. This was not possible as the US Congress found itself bogged down in dealing with the collapse of financial institutions and took up for consideration a bailout plan offered by the administration.
The House of Representatives, however, did manage to pass the Bill during the time the Indian prime minister was in the country, even though it could not be taken up for consideration by the Senate.
Final passage of the Bill is awaited with keen interest by Indian authorities, who have seen US lawmakers try their best to constrain the scope of the agreement through the passage of constricting amendments. India has warned repeatedly that it would not accept what it has dubbed as "killer amendments" and would much rather walk away from the deal.
For the Bush administration, the Indo-US nuclear deal would mark perhaps a solitary foreign policy victory in its eight years of office, and for this reason would be all the more welcome.