[ 27 Jul, 2006 0856hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]
WASHINGTON: The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed landmark legislation approving the US-India nuclear agreement by a massive 359-68 margin, rejecting several 'killer amendments' on the way.
The House vote was largely bipartisan with backing from both sides of the aisle: 218 Republicans and 141 Democrats supported the deal, and only nine Republicans and 59 Democrats opposed it.
En route to the historic vote, the House rejected at least three 'killer' amendments which supporters said would have scupper the agreement.
An amendment that would have the US audit India's fissile material stock annually was rejected by a 155-268 margin.
Another amendment that would restrict export to uranium to India until the President certified that New Delhi had frozen its fissile material production was rejected 184-241.
When these two amendments were defeated, opponents of the agreement tried to link the deal to India further supporting US in its campaign against Iran.
But that too was defeated 192-235 by supporters who argued that New Delhi had already proved its credentials as a US partner opposed to nuclear proliferation in the Iran context.
About the only significant amendment that was passed without contest was one that enjoins the United States to only support India's civilian nuclear program, and not any nuclear weapons capability enhancement.
At the end of almost five hours of marathon arguments and legislative procedures, the United States and India Nuclear Cooperation Promotion Act of 2006, to be renamed the Hyde Amendment after the lawmaker who engineered it, was passed by a handsome 369-58 margin.
The Act will permit a certifiably nuclear-armed India India to buy reactors and fuel from the international market for the first time in more than 30 years (subject to final approval and international consent), despite the fact it has still not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It will in effect mark the end of India's nuclear isolation and possibly arrange the global strategic architecture.
''We are at the hinge of history, building a fundamentally new relationship with India... historians will regard this as a tidal shift in ties between the U.S and India when Congress signaled definitively the end of the cold war paradigm,'' Tom Lantos (D-California) co-author of the legislation said while introducing the bill.
Indeed, historians will record many lawmakers who were instrumental in changing what New Delhi always argued was an unfair nuclear apartheid regime, but some legislators were front and center in the rousing debate.
Congressman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey), Gary Ackerman (D-New York), Joseph Crowley (D- New York), Joe Wilson (R- South Carolina), Ed Royce (R-California) Nancy Pelosi (D- California), Eli Faleomavega (D- American Samoa) and Eliot Engel (D-New York) formed the core team of supporters for the agreement led by Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) and Tom Lantos (D-California). In the end, Republicans weighed in far greater numbers than the Democrats although the support was bipartisan.
Among those who vehemently opposed the agreement under one pretext or the other were Ed Markay (D-Massachusetts), Brad Sherman (D-California) and Howard Berman (D-California).
The House vote is a major step in the long legislative process that also requires a Senate approval and international okay (by the Nuclear Suppliers Group), But in the meantime, supporters of the agreement celebrated the win with gusto.
''The USINDIA FORUM congratulates every one who has provided support for this Bill. We call on members of the Indian American Community and their Organizations through out the country to Stay Focused on getting the legislations passed in similar manner in the US Senate also,'' Ashok Mago, a Dallas-based Indian-American convener of the forum said in a message, which claimed a 94 per cent vote from the Texas Congressional delegation.
The Washington D.C -centric USINPAC was also instrumental in rallying what turned out to be an overall 84 per cent Congressional support for the agreement.