Mukherjee serves sweet compliments to Rice at lunch

October 4th, 2008 - 10:07 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 4 (IANS) The much-touted signing of the India-US nuclear accord may be still some days away, but that did not prevent External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee from serving a lavish spread of compliments at a lunch he hosted here Saturday for visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.“Madam Secretary, you are a true friend of India. Under your stewardship as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, we have transformed our relationship and deepened our strategic partnership,” Mukherjee told Rice during the luncheon in her honour at the stately Hyderabad House that was attended by top officials from both sides.

“No Secretary of State of the United States has done more for this relationship than you have,” Mukherjee went on, describing Rice as “a true friend of India”.

“You had conceptualized it even before taking office, and have seen your ideas implemented in action. This is a rare achievement in practical politics,” the minister maintained.

Among those who shared the high table with Mukherjee and Rice were US ambassador David Mulford, India’s ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the India-US nuclear deal Shyam Saran.

Rice, who pioneered the concept of “transformational diplomacy”, has been a tireless advocate of achieving nuclear rapprochement between India and the US which has turned them from estranged into engaged democracies over the last three and a half years.

Lauding Rice for her pivotal role in bringing the much-debated nuclear deal to fruition and for the all-encompassing transformation in India-US ties, Mukherjee said: “The civil nuclear initiative which you have personally piloted through the US Congress is the most visible sign of this.”

Rice, a gifted piano player whose name is derived from the Italian musical expression which means “with sweetness”, returned the compliments.

Dressed elegantly in a grey suit, Rice, often dubbed “Warrior Princess” because of her argumentative and temperamental streak, thanked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mukherjee for their key role in shepherding the historic nuclear deal during difficult stages in its over three-year long journey, sources said.

With the nuclear deal days away from signing, Rice’s journey to India, in a sense, completes a full circle as she was the one who first hinted at such a deal when she visited India in March 2005 and spoke eloquently about the US’ desire to assist India in becoming a major global power.

This will be perhaps her last visit to India as Secretary of State.

Mukherjee assured Rice that India will be signing the 123 agreement soon to bring it into effect.

In fact, Rice’s romance with India goes back to her days as professor of political science and later provost at Stanford University, which has a large number of Indian-origin students she admires. The affair with India is set to continue as she returns to Stanford next year, an Indian diplomat said.

Underlining strong people-to-people links, Rice generously praised the Indian American community in the US for “their tremendous energy, vitality and vibrancy” and said India-US ties go much beyond the civil nuclear agreement.

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