WASHINGTON – Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Washington to rally support in the US Congress for a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement reached long ago with the Bush administration.
Singh was meeting with President Bush at the White House late Thursday as the administration pressed lawmakers to approve a deal that has been a high priority for the U.S. and Indian governments. Time is running out, however, as lawmakers wrap up this year's session to campaign for the November elections.
A Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a bill on the nuclear agreement this week, but the measure has not been presented to the full Senate or in the House.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday it appears that the legislation "is on the right track" to gain congressional approval.
Rep. Edward J. Markey, a Democrat and a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the deal poses unacceptable risks to U.S. national security.
"Unbelievably, if India tests a new nuclear weapon, the deal does not cut off their supply," Markey said in a written statement. He accused Bush of attempting to sidestep congressional review and oversight.
Supporters had hoped to have it included in a broader spending bill Wednesday, but the legislation passed the House without it. Lawmakers on Thursday were looking for other ways to win approval.
The House and the Senate would have to pass the bill and send it to Bush for the deal to go through before a new administration takes office in January.
The last-minute attempt to finish the nuclear cooperation agreement comes as Congress debates a critical bank bailout plan and rushes to pass numerous important measures before shutting down for the year.
The Bush administration needs the Democratic-controlled Congress' help to overcome a law that says Congress may not ratify the accord sooner than 30 working days after receiving it. The Bush administration rushed the deal to Congress on Sept. 10, but that left insufficient time for ratification before the election break without a change in the law.
This month, the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group of countries that supply nuclear material and technology agreed to lift the ban on civilian nuclear trade with India, the last necessary step before Congress could consider the deal. The ban was imposed because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has developed nuclear weapons.
The administration has warned that failure to ratify the deal would keep U.S. companies from doing business in India's multibillion-dollar nuclear energy sector.
The accord would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by shipping atomic fuel to India in return for international inspections of India's civilian, but not its military, reactors. India has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty or other such agreements and has faced a nuclear trade ban since its first atomic test in 1974.