The Bush administration begins its campaign to secure congressional nod for the US-India nuclear agreement on Thursday, when two high-ranking officials are slated to testify in the first hearing on the subject on Capitol Hill.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and Undersecretary for Arms Control Robert Joseph are expected to make a strong pitch for the deal, concluded during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit here in July.
A full meeting of the House International Relations Committee, chaired by Henry J Hyde, will deliberate on the issue as part of a larger discussion on what it calls the "The US and India: An Emerging Entente".
Although lawmakers are heavily preoccupied with the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, media contacts indicated that the committee's meeting on Thursday will be held as scheduled. The hearing assumes importance in the context of some discordant noises over the deal, which can go into effect only if the Congress amends the stringent US Non-proliferation Act.
The prime minister himself laid the groundwork a day after the July 18 agreement when he told a joint session of Congress that India "will never be a source of proliferation of technologies".
President Bush made a public affirmation of India's impeccable track record on non-proliferation — an aspect which is expected to be highlighted in Thursday's testimony in order to clear the decks for civilian nuclear cooperation.
While several members of the India Caucus have pledged to see the deal through, a majority of Congressmen are still to formulate their views. There are some clear opponents, though. One of them, Democrat Ed Markey, has threatened to introduce a legislation opposing the lifting of nuclear sanctions against India.