The powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee kicked off a crucial hearing on the Indo-US nuclear deal, with a senior democrat presiding over the panel saying that the Congress will be "well advised" to approve the agreement this month. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns and Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood are testifying before the panel being presided over by Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd in the absence of the Committee Chairman Joseph Biden. Biden, who is the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, is currently hitting the campaign trail. In his opening remarks, Senator Dodd called the hearing "very important and historic" and that the core issue is not about nuclear weapons. The Connecticut Democrat emphasised that the Congress will be "well advised" to approve the agreement this month. "It is not a partisan issue," Dodd maintained. The Bush administration has also presented to the panel Richard Stratfford, Director, Office of Nuclear Energy, Safety and Security Affairs in the Bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation. In his opening statement submitted for the record, Burns said establishing and strengthening "our strategic partnership with India has been a key foreign policy priority" for the Bush administration as it was for the previous Clinton government and will be for the successor administration. "No wonder then that this relationship and the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative have received such broad, bipartisan support from the Congress," Burns said. "We believe that moving forward on the US-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Initiative will also help advance other areas in the US-India relationship," the senior State Department official added. Republican Ranking Member Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana said the expectation was for India to move "quickly" to negotiate a safeguards agreement with the IAEA and then seek a consensus with the Nuclear Suppliers Group but the final action was not completed within the last several weeks. "This leaves Congress with the difficult task of approving this agreement in the short time before we adjourn," Lugar said.