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Oct 02, 2008 at 10:21am IST

US Senate clears Indo-US nuclear deal

New Delhi: The 100-member US Senate early Thursday morning approved the landmark Indo-US nuclear deal after a two-and-a-half-hour debate, paving the way for the much-touted and widely debated strategic pact to finally be signed by the two countries.

The deal cleared its last legislative hurdle with members from across the political divide supporting the landmark accord. An overwhelming 86 Senators voted for the deal, while 13 opposed it.

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Speaking to CNN-IBN, India’s Ambassador to the US, Ronan Sen, expressed great satisfaction over the capping of a contentious negotiation process over the pact that was first agreed upon in July 2005. The bill only required a simple majority of 60 votes.

“It is extremely satisfying to see its (deal negotiation process) conclusion by overwhelming bipartisan support. It is the completion of a historic process. There have been many nay-sayers and doubters,” he said.

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“It has come a full circle. It's only a matter of time now before the deal is finalised,” he added.

The approval legislation was passed by the House at 0619 hrs IST after the upper chamber rejected by voice vote a 'killer amendment' introduced by Democratic Senators Byron Dorgan and Jeff Bingaman.

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The killer amendment was proposed to ensure that the US nuclear exports to India do not help boost New Delhi's nuclear weapons programme. It demanded that US ceases nuclear commerce with India in the event of India detonating a nuclear bomb.

However, CNN-IBN correspondent in Washington, Prerna Kumar, reported, “As the day progressed, there was a word that the language be diluted so that the deal was acceptable to all sides. However, during the voting, the US Senate rejected the amendment and cleared the deal with an overwhelming majority.”

Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain and Obama's vice presidential running mate, Joe Biden, voted in favour of the deal.

Congressional approval clears the decks for President George Washington Bush to sign it into law and present the implementing 123 Agreement as a done deal to New Delhi after taking care of a couple of Indian concerns relating to reprocessing of spent fuel, and fuel supply assurances.

The Dorgan-Bingaman amendment sought to end nuclear cooperation with India in the event of New Delhi conducting a test. The House legislation has a similar provision, but the passage of the amendment would have sent it back to the lower chamber for reconciliation as the President can sign into law only an identical measure.

Earlier, as the debate began, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying the Bush Administration would prefer a "clean legislation" without any new amendments.

Condoleezza Rice, who was slated to arrive in New Delhi on October 2, has reportedly rescheduled her visit and is expected on Saturday.

Rice may ink the agreement with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, a feat that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush could not achieve when they met at the White House on Friday last.

The deal cleared its last legislative hurdle four days after the US House of Representatives gave it an equally emphatic 298-117 endorsement.

For Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had pursued this deal almost for three years now, the US Congress nod is a great success.

Last year, when he was received criticism from the Left and the BJP, many doubted that he would would be able to steer its past all hurdles.

The Left parties have announced that they will observe black day as a mark of protest on October 4, Condoleezza Rice visits India.

(With inputs from PTI, CNN-IBN, IANS)