Senator Richard Lugar, Republican from Indiana and the ranking minority member of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has virtually given the green signal that the India-United States nuclear agreement has to be completed this year, without resorting to the 30-day requirement.
Lugar is an avowed nonproliferation advocate, whose support would be critical for the US Congress to approve the 123 Agreement in the few days left in the Congressional calendar this year.
Top US officials to testify on N-deal at Senate
In opening remarks before the crucial testimony of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns before the Committee on Thursday, Lugar expressed hope that the Congress would be able to complete important work on the agreement this year with "total cooperation from the administration and strong bipartisan teamwork in Congress."
Luger touched upon the contentious issue of the "30-day period of consultation on the proposed agreement and 60 days to consider a resolution approving the agreement"
"If we hope to pass the resolution this year, we cannot wait until all 30 days of the consultation period have transpired," he said.
Luger reminded the Senate that extensive groundwork had been done before the deal was constituted.
"In December 2006, the Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation setting out the criteria under which we would consider a so-called 123 agreement between the United States and India. The Committee on Foreign Relations undertook an extensive review of the agreement. We held three public hearings with testimony from 17 witnesses, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. We received a classified briefing from then Under Secretaries of State Nick Burns and Bob Joseph," he said.
Luger stressed that the nuclear agreement was an "important strategic opportunity" for the US. He pointed out that the nuclear deal reinforced non-proliferation efforts and maintained US obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
The Hyde Act was passed on December 9, 2006, and it was signed into law by President George W Bush on December 18, 2006, said Luger.
He also informed the Senate that India's efforts to seek a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and then a consensus from the Nuclear Suppliers Group suffered a serious setback due to domestic 'political divisions'.
But India had obtained the approval of a new safeguards agreement with the IAEA on August 1 and a consensus from the NSG on September 6.
Luger also talked about the "seven determination requirements that the President must make in order to waive provisions of the Atomic Energy Act and submit the agreement to Congress".
"Last week, President Bush determined that each of these requirements has been met. Today's hearing will review these determinations in preparation for Congressional acceptance," informed Luger.
He also outlined the four main policy and legal questions that must be resolved during today's hearing. He emphasised on the need to "establish the definitive US interpretation of this agreement and avoid any ambiguity about the effect of this agreement on US law and policy."