A Senate panel voted to support the U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation accord Thursday, a major step toward approval of the unprecedented deal.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote was a victory for the administration of President George W. Bush. It comes two days after the House of Representatives' International Relations Committee approved a similar measure.
The votes make it likely that both chambers of Congress will approve the agreement.
Senate Committee approval came on a 16-2 vote. The debate preceding the vote lasted almost 90 minutes.
Senator after senator highlighted the proposal as a historic turning point in U.S Indian relationship that has often been unfriendly.
The lone negative votes were cast by Sens. Russ Feingold and Barbara Boxer.
The committee rejected by 13-5 an amendment from Feingold to require Bush to provide assurances that India was not taking advantage of the agreement by diverting nuclear fuel to its atomic weapons program.
Sen. George Allen said the amendment was a potential "deal breaker," warning that India could walk away from the agreement if it were approved.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the committee's Republican chairman, said that the accord is "the most important strategic diplomatic initiative undertaken by President Bush."
On Tuesday, the House committee voted 37-5 in support of Bush's initiative. The deal must be considered by the full House, which supporters say could happen next month.
Any version of legislation on the accord coming out of the Senate would have to be reconciled later with the House bill.
Critics say the plan could boost India's nuclear arsenal. Supporters say it would provide much-needed energy to a crucial ally that has always managed its nuclear technologies responsibly.
Under the deal, India would allow international inspections and safeguards at 14 nuclear reactors it has designated as civilian; India's eight military facilities would remain off-limits. In return, the United States would agree to ship nuclear technology and fuel to India.