Nuclear deal signing uncertain as Rice arrives

October 4th, 2008 - 3:23 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 4 (IANS) Amid mounting suspense over the signing of the 123 India-US civil nuclear cooperation pact, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived here Saturday on a day-long visit.Rice, who was the first to hint at a nuclear energy deal during her visit to India in March 2005, will meet External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and discuss with him an entire spectrum of issues, including civil nuclear cooperation, trade, counter-terrorism, human rights, religious freedom and education.

Ahead of her visit, Rice had said she will discuss “the next steps in the US-India relationship”, to take bilateral ties forward after the sealing of the nuclear deal.

Rice and Mukherjee were expected to sign the 123 agreement, but procedural issues appear to have put off the signing ceremony.

However, top Indian and American officials are still engaged in last-minute talks to see if the signing could take place before a presidential signing statement by US President George Bush.

“The signing may still happen. Keep your fingers crossed,” an official source, who did not wish to be named, said here Saturday after Rice arrived in New Delhi.

Before leaving the US for her New Delhi visit, Rice had told reporters that details are still being worked out about the signing process.

Asked if Bush had to sign the approval bill into law before she could ink the implementing 123 agreement, Rice had said: “The president does not have to sign before I sign. But we’re working through the details of this. I’ll let you know.”

Asked why the “administrative issues” were being worked out at the last minute, Rice said: “It’s got to be worked out at the last minute, because there are so many administrative issues that we have to deal with.”

Rice will also call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discuss with him steps to implement commitments in the 123 pact and ways to expand bilateral relationship in the aftermath of the landmark accord.

Rice has relentlessly promoted nuclear entente with India ever since Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush envisaged a landmark civil nuclear cooperation initiative on July 18, 2005.

She will also meet the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani and thank his party for promoting India-US relations during the NDA dispensation.

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