Press Trust of India
WASHINGTON, Oct 9: US President George W Bush on Wednesday signed into law the legislation to implement the historic Indo-US civil nuclear deal paving the way for the two countries to formally ink the 123 agreement on Friday.
In significant comments at the signing ceremony, Bush assured there will be no changes in fuel supply commitments as contained in the 123 Agreement. "India can count on reliable fuel supplies (from US) for its reactors," Bush said.
Bush inked the authorising legislation finally approved by the US Congress last week in a high profile ceremony at the White House's ornate East Room reversing 34 years of US policy to eventually allow American businesses to have a share of India's 100 billion dollar nuclear pie.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will formally sign the overall bilateral nuclear cooperation accord on Friday evening itself in a surprise announcement made by the State Department hours before Bush's signature on the implementing legislation.
"On Friday at 4 o'clock (0130 IST Saturday) the secretary will sign with the Indian foreign minister, Foreign Minister Mukherjee, the India Civil Nuclear Agreement," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
"This follows on the president's signature today of implementing legislation in the United States," he added.
In a major foreign policy success, Bush put his signature on " H R 7081, United States- India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act " in the presence of Vice-President Dick Cheney, Rice, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, lawmakers, prominent members of the Indian American community and leading businessmen of the two countries.
Bush said the legislation makes no changes in the 123 Agreement and it does not affect fuel exchange and reprocessing.
The President thanked not only members of his administration, especially at the State Department and White House who worked to secure the deal, but also lawmakers and leaders of the Indian American community.
He especially appreciated Rice for her "hard work" in bringing the deal to fruition.
The Presidential action culminates a over three-year tumultous journey for the deal which faced opposition from lawmakers in both the two countries that also saw Left parties withdrawing support to the Manmohan Singh government. Bush and Singh approved the deal on July 18, 2005 during the Prime Minister's visit to Washington.
Calling the Indian prime minister as his "dear friend", Bush said India and the US are "natural partners" despite being physically separated half way through the globe.
Bush also spoke of advanced consent for reprocessing. Bush's assurances appears to have taken care of Indian concerns over issues relating to unhindered american fuel supplies and technology transfers for uranium enrichment.
The President said the 123 Agreement is consistent with the Atomic Energy Act.
Despite the deal coming under attack from its critics in the US, the Bush Administration has steadfastly maintained it is a very big boon to global non-proliferation.
Once Bush signs the authorizing legislation, he is required to certify that the agreement with India is consistent with U.S. obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, designed to limit the spread of nuclear weapons.
He must also certify that it is U.S. policy to cooperate with international efforts to further restrict transfers of technology related to uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
Three decades after US imposed a ban on civilian nuclear trade with India after latter's first nuclear test in 1974, American officials have said a new approach is needed to help the world's largest democracy meet its booming energy needs at a time of skyrocketing oil prices and global warming fears.
Rice during a visit to New Delhi last week called the accord "a recognition of India's emergence on the global stage".
"The president looks forward to signing this bill into law and continuing to strengthen the US-India Strategic Partnership," a White House official said hours before the signing ceremony
"This legislation will strengthen our global nuclear nonproliferation efforts, protect the environment, create jobs, and assist India in meeting its growing energy needs in a responsible manner," the official said.
Rice and others had to lobby hard to win approval for the deal from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which controls global atomic trade.
She also pushed hard for the agreement to be approved by both Houses of Congress.
The historic agreement could not be inked during Rice's day-long visit to India on October 4 as New Delhi insisted that it would do so only after seeing Bush's signing statement. India is expecting Bush to clear the American position on certain aspects like fuel supply assurances.
The bill was approved by the House of Representatives before the Senate gave its nod for it. It had bi-partisan support in both the House and Senate.