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Burns describes Indo-US N-bill 'historic'

Burns said it was a "big breakthrough" and would usher in a new phase of enhanced strategic partnership, reports Nilova Roy Chaudhury.

india Updated: Dec 08, 2006 23:07 IST

American officials were celebrating the reconciled Bill that would shortly be adopted by the Houses of Congress on Friday as "a big breakthrough" that had "accomplished 90 to 95 per cent of what we set out to achieve."

Celebrations, deferred on Thursday because the reconciled Bill was not available, were clearly evident, with the key US negotiator Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns saying, "It is a day to celebrate the new relationship."

Describing the bill as "historic", Burns said it was a "big breakthrough" and would usher in a new phase of enhanced strategic partnership.

"The civil nuclear accord was at the symbolic centre in this new strategic partnership", he said.

"It will allow India for the first time in three-and-a-half decades to be a full participant in a major international agreement concerning civil nuclear power", Burns said, speaking to the media after an intense day of discussions with parliamentarians and senior defence ministry officials, including Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt.

The parliamentarians, from the Indo-US parliamentary Forum, did not include any members of the Left parties, who are likely to raise objections to the agreement.

Burns, however, did not state a date when the actual civil nuclear commerce would begin with India. Confident that the 123 agreement would be worked out shortly, Burns said the next round of negotiations on the bilateral agreement to enable nuclear commerce would be held in January. Three rounds of technical talks have already been held.

Burns also appeared hopeful that the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) would now adopt a consensus on its own giving India-specific waiver to permit all member countries to trade with India in nuclear technology. Asked specifically about China's reaction, he said, "I would be surprised if China blocked this initiative."

"The United States sees itself as the international advocate for India," he said, and would talk to its partners in the NSG to see the deal through.

"President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were right to take this very courageous decision to break with three decades of conventional wisdom. Congress has reinforced the agreement which India and the US have made," he said, hoping that it would pave the way for enhanced cooperation in an array of spheres, from defence cooperation to space to counter-terrorism.

Emphasising that this was a waiver of US law only for India, Burns clarified that, "we will not go back to Congress for such a bill for any other country."

Burns dismissed criticism that the US was trying to dictate India on the Iran nuclear issue. Burns said the annual certification clause, which has been a source of worry for India, had been done away with and that the Iran issue was in no way an intrusion on the civil nuclear deal.

Burns, who also met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and Shyam Saran, the Prime Minister's special envoy on the nuclear issue, affirmed that Washington would meet all the commitments made by President Bush on July 18 last year and March 2 this year. This includes fuel assurances to India, he said.

Email Nilova Roy Chaudhury: nilova@hindustantimes.com