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Senate may be close to vote on India nuclear pact

  • Story Highlights
  • Deal would open the way for contracts worth billions for U.S. companies
  • The House approved the pact last week
  • The secretary of state has lobbied hard for the deal
  • Nuclear trade with India has been banned since 1974
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From Charley Keyes
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(CNN) -- The Senate may be ready to give approval this week to a nuclear trade deal with India that the Bush administration has been pushing Congress to complete.

The House of Representatives gave its OK to the bill Saturday, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has predicted that the Senate could vote as early as Wednesday.

But the vote is not a certainty. At least one senator has been using parliamentary rules to anonymously block a vote.

And there must be agreement to remove a clause stipulating that congressional approval can be made only after the Senate is in session for 30 days. Lawmakers just returned from recess a few weeks ago, and they soon will take another to campaign for the November election.

Approval would open the way for contracts worth billions of dollars for U.S. companies in areas such as civilian nuclear equipment, fuel reprocessing technology and expertise.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been lobbying hard for the deal, in person and on the phone, even as lawmakers were occupied by the country's financial crisis.

She made another public pitch for the trade deal Tuesday and said she appreciates the efforts of the Democratic leadership.

"I certainly hope that it can get done, because it would be a landmark agreement for India and the United States," Rice said at the State Department. "And it would be a way to solidify what has been an extraordinary period in which U.S.-Indian relations have reached the kind of deepening that is really appropriate for two of the world's largest and great democracies."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the deal, and only two senators, Barbara Boxer, D-California, and Russell Feingold, D-Wisconsin, voted against it.

The State Department has declined to predict when the Senate will vote on the pact or what the vote's outcome will be.

"It's got strong bipartisan support, so we hope to see it happen," State Department deputy spokesman Robert Wood said Tuesday.

Nuclear trade with India was banned after India exploded a nuclear device in 1974 and refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now India has agreed to give access to international inspectors at some of its reactors. And in an informal agreement between the two nations, the United States says it would halt any nuclear cooperation should India resume testing.

The New York Times trumpeted its opposition to the pact Tuesday with an editorial titled "A Bad India Deal." The newspaper said the Bush administration didn't push India hard enough to stop producing bomb-making material and increasing its nuclear arsenal.

Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said the deal would be important for U.S.-India relations and would cement U.S. ties with an important ally.

"I think it is a good move for the United States," she said. "India is a big player. Its power and influence are increasing throughout the region."

Curtis, who served as a Foreign Service officer in India and has been following the debate in Congress, disputed critics' claims that the deal would complicate U.S. efforts to pressure Iran to halt its nuclear program.

"India and Iran are two different countries. India can be an example of how Iran can take steps to bring itself into the international community," she said.

The Indian nuclear market is a rich prize. The French government clinched its own nuclear trade deal with India on Wednesday when President Nicolas Sarkozy signed an agreement in Paris. That puts French companies in the running for some of the same contracts U.S. companies want.

U.S. President Bush met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House last week, in the midst of the government efforts to stave off the U.S. financial crisis. Both leaders talked about the importance of final U.S. approval of the civilian nuclear deal.

"For 34 years, India has suffered from a nuclear apartheid," Singh said during a photo session with Bush. "We have not been able to trade in nuclear material, nuclear reactors, nuclear raw materials. And when this restrictive regime ends, I think a great deal of credit will go to President Bush. And for this, I am very grateful to you, Mr. President."

All About IndiaU.S. Department of StateCondoleezza Rice

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