India, US defer signing 123 pact (Second Lead)

October 4th, 2008 - 8:26 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 4 (IANS) India and the US Saturday affirmed that they would sign their nuclear agreement “shortly” even as American officials privately expressed “unhappiness” that the deal could not be signed despite US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s presence in New Delhi Saturday. They have deferred the signing of the 123 pact to a “mutually convenient” time that will be decided by the two sides soon.

“The civil nuclear agreement is in the last lap. We look forward to signing the agreement soon,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters at a joint press conference here with Rice, who was on a day-long visit to India.

Describing the nuclear deal as “a transformational event” in India-US relations, Mukherjee underlined that this agreement has “opened doors” for India to enter into global nuclear trade with the world.

Rice and Mukherjee held “very useful and constructive” talks on a wide spectrum of bilateral and global issues, including the UN reforms, terrorism, trade, climate change and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The two could not agree on the signing of the 123 pact as India insisted it would do so only after a presidential signing statement addressing some of New Delhi’s lingering concerns over fuel supply that flowed from contrary statements coming from Washington, official sources said.

The American side insisted right till the end about sealing the deal, but New Delhi prevailed.

The Indian insistence on deferring the signing till the presidential statement has left Americans “unhappy”, an American diplomatic source told IANS.

Lauding the India-US civil nuclear deal as “a historic agreement and a historic achievement”, Rice, however, put on a brave face and said it could not be signed, as was widely expected, as some “administrative details” still remained to be sorted out.

“President Bush wants to sign the legislation soon. There are administrative details. It’s been a busy time. The bill has to be encoded and transmitted to the White House,” Rice, a key US interlocutor for the nuclear deal, replied when asked why the 123 pact could not be signed yet.

“There are no open issues left in the 123 Agreement,” Rice said in response to a question from IANS, indicating that the signing remains a mere legal formality.

“After the process is complete, we will sign the agreement. I hope we will be able to see it soon,” Mukherjee stressed.

Although no dates have been set for the signing ceremony, it is likely to happen soon after Bush signs the legislation enabling nuclear commerce between the two countries. Called the presidential signing statement, it is likely to happen over the next few days.

“The Hyde Act is consistent with the 123 agreement and the 123 agreement is consistent with the Hyde Act,” Rice replied when asked whether the presidential statement will address some of New Delhi’s concerns on fuel supply.

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