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US Senate approves nuclear deal

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Last updated on: October 02, 2008 18:39 IST

It was a slam dunk all the way, when the US Senate on Wednesday night--in-between voting on a financial bailout package--overwhelmingly approved the US-India civilian nuclear agreement by an overwhelming margin of 86-13 with both Democratic and Republican presidential nominees Senators Barack Obama and John McCain being on the floor to vote aye.


Also arriving late, but in time to vote in favor of it was Senator Joseph Biden, Obama's vice-presidential running mate, and chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the driving force behind its progress over the years.


Before the Senate took up the legislation, which was the bill that was approved by 298-117 in the House of Representatives four days ago, known as House Resolution 7081 --or the Berman Amendment -- authored by Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it first sent to the junk heap a 'killer amendment' authored by Senators Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, both Democrats and opponents of the deal, by a voice vote.


The rejection of this 'killer amendment' was such a foregone conclusion that the authors of it did not even call for a roll call vote, which would have put those who voted against it and for it on the record.


Dorgan in defense of this 'killer amendment' had argued that "we both feel it's (the US-India civilian nuclear cooperative agreement) a flawed agreement that will result in the production of additional nuclear weapons on this planet and that's the last thing we need."


But, in virtually throwing in the towel even before the vote, said, "But I understand, and Senator Bingaman understands, that this Senate will likely approved this agreement by a wide margin this evening."


Dorgan said, "Our amendment is simple, It says if India tests nuclear weapons, this agreement is nullified and we work to try to shut off supplies from the other supplier groups."


"The last thing we ought to allow is to have India begin testing nuclear weapons without consequence to the agreement that has been negotiated with India," he said.


But Senator Chris Dodd, Connecticut Democrat and acting chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Biden has been on the campaign trail, and who was managing the debate along with the ranking Republican member of the panel, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, argued that while he had "great respect for my colleagues Senator Dorgan and Senator Bingaman," their concerns had all been taken care of by previous laws already on the books.


"The Atomic Energy Act, the Arms Export Control Act, the Hyde Amendment and this bill all have provisions in it that would allow us to respond should India decide to detonate a nuclear weapon," he said.


Dodd asserted that "no one, want to see a further proliferation of nuclear weapons. But India and the United States are the two largest democracies in the world and India is in a very tough and fragile neighborhood. It is important that we develop and improve that relationship that has been a tense one since 1974."


He said that "this agreement began with the work of President Clinton, it was concluded by President Bush. We think it's an agreement worth supporting and urge my colleagues to do so and reject the Bingaman-Dorgan amendment."


At the outset Dodd had heaped praise on Biden and Lugar for having "worked a long time" on the legislation. "We've had five Congressional hearings by our Committee on this subject matter."


Lugar in urging fellow Senators to vote for the legislation said their participation would be "in a historic moment."


"This is an opportunity for the United States and India to come together in a way that is historically important for the world," he said, and added, "India is a very important country for us and this relationship is sealed in a very significant way by this agreement."


Lugar reiterated that his colleagues "vote on this historic moment for a partnership that will be enduring in my judgment and will make a big difference in the history of the world."


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was to arrive in New Delhi on October 2 on a previously scheduled visit that had been postponed several times before, was now slated to be in India on October 4 and was likely to sign the US Congress ratified agreement with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

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