Bush calls Manmohan, invites him to Washington


New Delhi : US President George Bush called Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday evening to discuss the ongoing negotiations on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact and invited him to Washington – a strong indication the two sides are close to clinching the 123 pact.

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In tune with the newly forged strategic partnership that has the civil nuclear cooperation deal as its centrepiece, the two leaders discussed a broad array of global and regional issues, including the G-8 summit in Germany next month, climate change and the urgent need to conclude the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations.

"The two leaders expressed happiness at the strengthening of the bilateral relations and reviewed developments pertaining to negotiations on bilateral civil nuclear cooperation," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement.

"The president invited the prime minister to visit the US again. The prime minister accepted the invitation and said mutually convenient dates will be worked out," the statement added.

Bush has called Manmohan Singh at a time when negotiations over the 123 pact are critically poised. In the last round held in Washington last month, both sides appeared to have made progress in resolving contentious issues relating to testing and access to reprocessing technologies. The US has also shown a willingness to accommodate India's demand for fuel guarantees for the entire lifetime of its reactors it will place under international safeguards.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Washington's chief interlocutor on nuclear deal, will be coming here by the end of this month for a final 123 agreement. If there are still some issues, they are expected to be resolved in a meeting between Bush and Manmohan Singh on the margins of the G-8 summit in Germany next month.

Bush's invitation to Manmohan Singh for a visit to the US is seen here as a strong indication that the 123 pact may be signed during a visit by the prime minister to Washington later this year.

The visit could happen in September, officials sources said, when Manmohan Singh is slated to go to New York to address the UN General Assembly.

Bush's call comes close on the heels of the telephonic conversation Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had with Manmohan Singh last month in which she underlined the need to finalise the 123 pact so that it can be signed by the Congress at the earliest.

"The call was made (by Rice). Issues relating to the civil nuclear deal were discussed," diplomatic sources told IANS.

Another issue that may have acted as a trigger for Bush's call to Manmohan Singh was the urgency to conclude the Doha round for which India's support could be crucial. As fast-track authority given to Bush to push ahead with the Doha round expires in June, time is running out to have the trade pact in place.

"The two leaders also emphasized the importance of a successful conclusion of the Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations," the prime minister's office said.

"The prime minister said that India has a strong vested interest in the successful functioning of a multilateral trading system, and that India would like the Doha Round to adhere to the original understanding that it will be a development round," it said.

"The prime minister said India would like to work with all like-minded countries to make a success of Doha negotiations," it added.