Chances of the Indo-US nuclear deal going through the Congress this month got a boost Friday with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and a leading Democrat hoping that the 30-day rule for the legislation to be considered will be waived. Pelosi also said that the deal has the support of the House and hoped it can be considered before the Congress session ends on September 26.
The success of the Bush Administration to get Congressional nod for the deal before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington on September 25 hinges on three key players including Pelosi.
The others are Senate majority leader Democrat Harry Reid, who has indicated he will work for the approval of the deal, and House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman, a vocal critic.
Pelosi's remarks come on a day the State Department hoped the legislation can be passed before the Congress adjourns for the year.
"We have presented a very strong package fully consistent with the requirements that Congress set out," Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said at a meeting organised by the US India Business Alliance at Capitol Hill.
"We understand how tight the Congressional calendar is this fall. But we look forward to continuing with Congress on the initiative and we hope the legislation can be passed before Congress adjourns for the year," he added.
The comments came close on the heels of President George Bush's statement that American commitments to the Indian side under the agreement were not "legally binding".
Pelosi described as "substantial" the Bush administration's submission made to the Congress on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement.
" the submission we received last night -- and it's very -- it's quite substantial. It will require a waiver of our rules, because you need 30 consecutive legislative days to pass before you could take up such legislation," Pelosi said at a news conference.
"And I hope that work can be done so that we can take it up. It does have support in the House," she added.
The Congress, which opened September 8, will be in session till September 26. It is therefore being asked by administration to do away with the mandatory 30-day period before it can take up the agreement for a simple yes-no vote without a debate.
Pelosi, however, also stressed on the importance of principles contained in the Hyde legislation, so that "what we do in India... does not send a message that it's OK to proceed to a more nuclear state".
Terming non-proliferation as a pillar of American foreign policy, the powerful lawmaker said the civilian nuclear deal between the two countries should not become a "precedent for saying many more countries will join the club".
"We know that they (India) have not proliferated. But still, trying to strike the balance of this is about civilian nuclear use, and we don't want it to be a precedent for saying many more countries will join the club," Pelosi said.
Meanwhile the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, currently the democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Biden has said his panel will act promptly to review the agreement in a hearing next week.