India, US to ink historic 123 pact Saturday

October 2nd, 2008 - 8:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 2 (IANS) With the Senate giving a thumbs-up to the nuclear accord, India and the US will ink the “historic” 123 Agreement Saturday, the final step in over three years of tortuous negotiations that will restore civil nuclear trade between the two countries. The 123 pact will be formally signed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, official sources told IANS.

Rice, who spearheaded the administration’s last-minute push to the deal with numerous meetings and endless phone calls to lawmakers amid the financial meltdown in the US, arrives here Saturday morning on a day-long visit.

Mukherjee, currently in New York, is likely to return home Friday.

“Arrangements are being made for the signing of the 123 agreement. It will take us a day or two to finalize these arrangements,” US ambassador to India David Mulford, also a key interlocutor for the nuclear deal, told reporters here Thursday at his residence, Roosevelt House.

“There is a high probability that it will be signed soon,” Mulford said.

The envoy stressed that nuclear commerce between the two countries will start only after India inks a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which will place 14 of its 22 nuclear reactors under safeguards.

Alluding to the lingering controversy about India’s right to testing and concerns about the Hyde Act, the envoy said, “The content of the 123 Agreement has been preserved” in the legislation passed by the Congress.

President George W. Bush is likely to make a presidential signing statement Friday before the 123 pact is signed in New Delhi the next day.

A jubilant Mulford later cut a celebratory cake with his wife by his side to toast this “great day” in the history of India-US relations.

Hailing the Senate’s resounding 86-13 endorsement of the nuclear deal as “a major historic accomplishment”, Mulford looked radiant and pleased with the way the agreement has reached its logical conclusion after many difficulties on the way.

“This is a very good day. It’s historic for both countries. It’s a major agreement that will change the relationship between the world’s major democracies,” the US envoy underlined.

The US envoy lauded the vision of both Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for this path-breaking nuclear entente between the two countries.

He underlined that the US Congress, despite the worst financial Congress of the last 75 years, found time to pass the legislation and voted for India.

“The US president, in the midst of a political maelstrom and financial crisis, found time to push the deal through the Congress,” Mulford said, adding that this underscored the significance the US attaches to its ties with India.

Mulford also stressed that the nuclear deal was driven not by commercial interests, but by the larger vision of making India a world power.

“This was driven by a vision to restore India, home to one-fifth of humanity, to the world. The US wishes to assist India in becoming a major power,” the envoy said.

He was echoing Rice’s words during her defining visit to India in March 2005 when the US hinted for the first time its keenness to offer an energy deal to India.

He, however, admitted that the economic potential of the deal was enormous for the US economy as it will lead to large-scale investment and generation of employment in that country.

“We expect to become a major player in the development of civil nuclear industry in India,” he said.

“We have to be competitive to win business,” he said two days after India and France inked a civil nuclear cooperation pact that made France the first country to sign such a pact after the Nuclear Suppliers group (NSG) lifted nuclear embargo on New Delhi three weeks ago.

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