A day after United States President George W Bush sent the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement to Congress, the administration's point man for South Asia Richard Boucher had a subtle message for US lawmakers -- let's get this deal expeditiously approved so that American business and industry can benefit from it.
Boucher was apprehensive about other countries beginning to use the Nuclear Suppliers Group exemption -- granted to India to engage in civilian nuclear trade -- to cut their own deals with New Delhi.
Boucher, assistant secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, did so by making note of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee's assurance this week that "the Indian government wants to wait till the US Congress acts before India signs nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries."
"So, there'll be plenty of competition when the time comes, but for the moment, it looks like we are all trying to get all the things settled and then we'll address those issues," he said.
Boucher also threw in what he called "some estimates that have said that the new reactor contracts under the agreement could create something like 3,000-5,000 new jobs in the United States as well as an additional 10,000-15,000 indirect jobs," which he said was contained in a study done by the Council on Foreign Relations.
The senior State Department official was briefing on the 'The US-India Nuclear Deal: The Current Situation,' organised jointly by the US-India Business Alliance and the Congressional Task Force of US-India Trade. He pointed out that that whatever action is taken and procedures adopted now, consummating the deal is the prerogative of the Congress, and that of Congress alone.
Boucher acknowledged, "We should expect a fair amount of discussion and lots of questions to be asked. He added, "What we also know from the substantial majorities --very strong bipartisan majorities who supported the Hyde Act -- that there is great support on the Capitol Hill for this agreement and for going forward with this kind of cooperation with India."
"I hope that after we've discussed and reviewed the determinations and the legal framework, that we'll be able to complete the work and proceed with the help and support of members of Congress. So, we've submitted a very strong package, fully consistent with the requirements that Congress set out -- with the bipartisan support -- in the Hyde Act."
Boucher said the administration was cognisant about "how tight the Congressional calendar is this fall, but we are looking forward to continuing our work with Congress on the initiative and we hope the legislation can be passed before Congress adjourns for the year."
He said that while there were many important pending issues on the agenda of the Congress in the shortened session because of it being election year, "this is one of the things that's important. And, there are members in the Congress that will help guide us because many members understand this sort of fundamental importance of the agreement and the desirability of getting it done this year."
But Boucher reiterated, "The one thing I know about Congressional schedules and Congressional procedures is it's entirely up to them. The point that we have to make is to look for people who agree with us that it's important to do this -- that it would be a major contribution to the US-India relationship, major contribution to international nonproliferation efforts if Congress can find a way forward."
"And, then, we listen and take their advise and they tell us who we ought to talk to, and members of Congress who are interested in seeing this passed are also working their colleagues and hopefully they will tell us what the way forward is -- because it really is entirely up to them how they operate up here on the Hill."
Eni Faleomavaega, Democrat from American Samoa, who is the co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on US-India Trade and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "I suspect there will be a lot of horse-trading too (in the Congress) about other unrelated issues."
"But, what I will say is that it is going to be incumbent upon the leadership of the President how well he can bring together the leadership of both Houses -- both Republicans and Democrats -- and how they can not only bring leadership but eventually make it work."
Faleomavaega said, "I am hopeful, I think we do have some key leaders, especially on the Democratic side. The Republicans are pretty much on board, but it's on the Democratic side that we have to work on and bring them on board as well."
So, he said, "It's going to be a challenge."
Reinforcing Boucher's message that it's best to move on it expeditiously so that other nations don't get the jump on India, argued, "One thing we need to understand -- at least my colleagues -- is that not so much that India really needs this. They can always go shopping with some other country to do this as well -- they can go to France and several of the European Union and their members, who also have the technology."