President George W. Bush will sign the Congressional approval of the Indo-US nuclear deal into law Oct 8, hopefully taking care of Indian concerns over a couple of new riders in the legislation.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee failed to sign the implementing 123 agreement during her just concluded visit to New Delhi due to Indian insistence that Bush must first sign the approval legislation.
While Rice and other US officials had taken the plea of pending "administrative details" for Bush not signing the legislation, but apparently what really kept him was how to allay Indian concerns regarding nuclear fuel assurances and technology transfers for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
But White House invitations Saturday for Wednesday's ceremony indicate that the two sides may have found the right formulation to allay India's concerns over these issues by way of a signing statement as he did over certain "extraneous and prescriptive" provisions in the Hyde Act in December 2006.
"My approval of the Act does not constitute my adoption of the statements of policy as US foreign policy," he then said in a presidential statement asserting that he would specifically treat three sections - 103, 104 and 109 - relating to India's Iran policy, NSG transfer guidelines and a joint scientific cooperative nuclear non-proliferation programme at best as "advisory".
US presidents have often used such signing statements to interpret a law the way they choose without taking the extreme step of rejecting a bill outright with a veto. Usually these are quietly listed in the Federal Register recording all executive actions without a public announcement.
India's concerns over "H R 7081, United States India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act," stem from its mover Howard Berman making Bush's controversial statement about "political commitments" regarding nuclear fuel supply assurances not being "legally binding" a part of the legislation.
Berman, Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, who had initially strongly opposed to the deal on non-proliferation grounds, was brought around to supporting the legislation with the inclusion of a couple of new provisions in the bill.
He also extracted an assurance from Rice that the US would work with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to "prohibit" transfers of enrichment and reprocessing technology to non-members of Non-Proliferation Treaty. Rice later clarified that she had used the word "limit" not "prohibit".
Section 104 of the approved bill requires that licenses may not be issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for transfers of nuclear fuel, equipment and technology until after the president determines and certifies to Congress that (1) the safeguards agreement approved by the IAEA Board of Governors on August 1, 2008, has entered into force; and (2) India has filed a declaration of facilities that is not materially inconsistent with the facilities and schedule described in its separation plan.
The legislation also requires a future administration to submit a "subsequent arrangement" for India establishing a dedicated facility to reprocess US-origin spent nuclear fuel to Congress, which would have the power to pass a resolution of disapproval.
To be sure "administrative details" too have to be worked out before the president signs a bill into law. For one, the House clerk has to first enrol the bill, print a copy on parchment paper and then send it to the White House for the president's signature. But it took just a couple of hours to do so in the case of the administration's $700 billion financial rescue package.
Another reason for the delay was as Rice put it the administration's desire to "use it as an opportunity to thank all of the people who have been involved in this", including the Indian American community and the business community which played a key role in pushing the deal through the Congress.