N-deal is done, Pranab, Rice sign 123 pact

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have signed the bilateral 123 agreement to seal the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal.

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The agreement bringing into reality the accord envisioned by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush over three years ago, was signed by the two ministers at a ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department a little after 4 p.m. Friday (1.30 a.m. Saturday India time).

“Many thought this day would never come, but doubts have been silenced,” Rice told a gathering of diplomats and others at the signing ceremony.

Calling it “a historic day”, Rice said: “India and the United States had taken on an extremely difficult challenge, we met it, we succeeded together. Now there is nothing we cannot do together.”

“So much out two countries can do together in the 21st century. It is limited only by our will and imagination,” she added.

Mukherjee said the event marked an “important day for US-India relations,” adding: “We have brought to fruition three years of extraordinary effort by both our governments.”

“The significance of this agreement is that it is the first step to civilian nuclear cooperation,” he said and thanked all who made the day a reality.

Mukherjee flew in Friday morning to sign the “Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of India and the Government of the United States of America concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy” after India’s concerns over the deal were met by Bush’s presidential statement.

The Indian minister came to ink the bilateral agreement just two days after Bush signed a historic enabling law with an assertion that it does not change US commitments on nuclear fuel assurances and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

“By undertaking new cooperation on civil nuclear energy, India will be able to count on a reliable fuel supply for its civilian reactors,” said Bush as he signed the Congressional approval of what he called a “big deal” at a White House ceremony Wednesday.

“The legislation does not change the terms of the 123 Agreement as I submitted it to the Congress,” said Bush in an accompanying presidential statement. It simply enabled him to bring the bilateral agreement “into force and to accept on behalf of the United States the obligations contained in the Agreement”.