Washington : The United States and India have reached an operating agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Friday.
Â Â Â "The United States and India have reached a historic milestone in their strategic partnership by completing negotiations on the bilateral agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation," she said in a statement jointly issued with Indian Foreign Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee.
Â Â Â "The conclusion of negotiations on this agreement marks a major step forward in fulfilling the promise of full civil nuclear cooperation as envisioned by President (George W.) Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," said the statement.
Â Â Â The civil nuclear cooperation will offer enormous strategic and economic benefits to both countries, including enhanced energy security, a more environmentally friendly energy source, greater economic opportunities, and more robust nonproliferation efforts, the statement said.
Â Â Â Rice did not provide details of the long-delayed, controversial accord, which, according to local reports, has gone beyond the terms approved by the U.S. Congress.
Â Â Â The Washington Times reported Thursday that the U.S. has agreed to help India secure fuel for its reactors, even if it conducts another atomic test.
Â Â Â The Bush administration made the major concession in closed-door talks with visiting Indian officials last week to save the civilian nuclear-energy deal with India, the newspaper quoted diplomats and nonproliferation experts as saying.
Â Â Â Sources familiar with the new proposal said the United States had offered to "consider the circumstances" before cutting off cooperation in the event of a nuclear test by India. In fact, Washington has even offered to help New Delhi secure alternative supplies of nuclear fuel as a way of getting round a U.S. embargo.
Â Â Â The sources said deal had been negotiated under pressure from India, which was determined to avoid having its hands tied in its nuclear rivalry with neighboring Pakistan.
Â Â Â One source with knowledge of the proposal said, "The United States would join India in seeking a fuel-supply agreement with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)."
Â Â Â "If there were an interruption, the U.S. and India will convene a group of friendly supplier countries, such as Britain and Russia, to restore the supply," the unidentified source said.
Â Â Â Christopher Griffin, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Bush administration's concessions are not a "real surprise, because its interest is not as much in nonproliferation as in removing the barrier to strategic cooperation with India on a broader agenda."
Â Â Â The U.S. and India reached a historic agreement on civil nuclear cooperation in March 2006, giving India access to U.S. civil nuclear technology, and opening its nuclear facilities to inspection.
Â Â Â U.S. President George W. Bush in December 2006 signed into law a bill approved by Congress allowing the deal to go through, a major step toward letting India buy U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel for the first time in 30 years.
Â Â Â But U.S. Congress attached several conditions to the law which were unpopular in New Delhi, and the two countries had to return to negotiations.
Â Â Â Under the bill, the U.S. president would be required to end the export of nuclear materials if India tests another nuclear device. India last performed nuclear tests in 1998.
Â Â Â The bill also does not guarantee uninterrupted fuel supplies for reactors and prevents India from reprocessing spent atomic fuel.
Â Â Â Indian critics have said the agreement would put restrictions on the country's nuclear weapons program.