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'Let N-deal process take its course or ...'

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | September 19, 2008 08:59 IST

Senator Christopher Dodd, the acting chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee that held a crucial hearing on the US-India civilian nuclear deal awaiting ratification by the Congress, said that while he would like to expeditiously move this 123 Agreement forward for action before the scheduled adjournment of Congress on September 26, it was imperative that the process be allowed to take its course or it 'could very well create a perfect storm to defeat it'.

Coverage: Indo-US Nuclear deal

Speaking to media persons after the hearing where senior Bush Administration officials led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns testified on the agreement, Dodd, asked the first question by as to the bottom line vis-a-vis the possible approval of the deal by Congress by September 26, said, "The evidence in the past has been that there is a strong desire to reach agreement, and a clear understanding of the value and importance of this."

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But, he asserted, "That does not minimize of course, that some members here have some reservations they had like the opportunity to express and to ask their colleagues to approve or disapprove of those ideas."

Dodd said, "As the acting chairman of this Committee, I want to, if I can, give my colleagues and members and opportunity to do that, and I say that to you only because I think that's the right thing to do, but also in the final analysis, if the matter were then brought up at the end of the very session that has not gone though the process, it could very well create a perfect storm to defeat it."

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"So, it is going to be important to try and give my colleagues with the limited time, a chance to express those views," he said.

Dodd, who was acting on behalf of Senator Joseph Biden, the chairman of the Committee, who was on the campaign trail as Democratic Presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama's [Images] vice presidential running mate, pointed out that "the House has some views we need to consider as well."

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He said, "The staff will be meeting tonight (September 18) and tomorrow to try and resolve these matters where they can with the Administration. So, we are going to utilize every minute of every day available to us with a goal in mind to have gone through this process fairly and equitably and simultaneously to be able to then include something that has been considered by the Senate and the House of Representatives probably in a Continuing Resolution."

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Dodd said, "I don't see any likelihood of free-standing proposals would have any opportunity for consideration," in the form of one amendment or another.

Asked when the Committee was likely to vote on this resolution, he said, "I don't know that. Again, obviously, we got some work to do but certainly will use the staff and will certainly have consultations with members between tomorrow and over the weekend and the hope is we will come back."

Don't rush N-deal vote, say Democratic lawmakers

Dodd said, besides this agreement, "There are a lot of other issues going on here. I also chair the Banking Committee and I have got a few other matters," in the wake of the collapse of the venerable Lehman Brothers and the government bale out of American International Group.

Asked if the Joint Resolution of Approval could contain language that might, for example, require an automatic cessation of nuclear trade with India if that country tests or such strong measures, the Connecticut democrat said, "I wouldn't want to get into commenting on the various proposals that members may have."

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But he acknowledged, "Certainly, that would not surprise me if some one might offer such proposals. I want to give them an opportunity to express their views on it. You heard today, the questions that were raised by both Democrats and Republicans. A lot of common interest in certain subject matters."

'Many unanswered questions in the N-deal'

However, Dodd reiterated, "Let me emphasize to you what I said at the outset of my remarks. There's a lot more involved in this than just the specifics of the agreement. I don't minimize that. This is a tremendously important relationship that has been under distress for a generation-and-a-half over this issue. And, I, for one, would like to see us take advantage of this opportunity to move forward into a 21st century relationship. An awful lot rests in the outcome of this. It is very important."

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Asked if it wouldn't undermine the whole purpose of the deal if Congress started moving it around and attaching addendums and the like, Dodd said, "We are adults and grown-ups and two great democracies understand how this process is never that pretty."

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"So, just as Indians have wrestled with this -- and I have great respect for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] and what he has gone through in order to achieve this result and there is probably a deeper appreciation of that process in India than maybe almost anyplace else in the world -- we need to go through that a bit ourselves here."

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However, Dodd said, "I am still very confident that we are going to end up with an agreement that's going to work to the satisfaction of both countries."

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