As the "mark up" or the fine-tuning of the legislation in US Congress to implement the Indo-US civil nuclear deal begins later this month, Vice President Dick Cheney on Thursday cautioned against any change in the agreement or delay in Washington's approval of it.
"...Given this agreement's strategic importance, we must be sure that amendments or delays on the US Side do not risk wasting this critical opportunity," he said in an address to the United States India Business Council (USIBC) celebrating its 31st Anniversary Leadership Summit in Washington.
The Indo-US civil nuclear deal symbolises the "great potential" of the bilateral ties and is in the interests of the two countries economically, environmentally and from the point of view of national security, he said.
"We hope Congress will move quickly to enact legislation that enables our two nations to move forward on this important agreement without delay... Our strategic partnership with India gives rise to a broad and ambitious agenda, and that's the way it should be for the two great nations in a time of challenge," he said.
The deal is "one of the most important strategic foreign policy initiatives of our government....At the same time, given this agreement's strategic importance, we must be sure that amendments or delays on the US Side do not risk wasting this critical opportunity," Cheney, who was presented the USIBC's Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Leadership in Uniting the US and India, said.
"And as the discussion proceeds, President Bush and I are confident that this agreement will receive the strong bipartisan support it deserves," he said.
The Indian-American Caucus in the US Senate is led by Republican Senator John Cornyn and Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton. In the House, Republican Representative Ileana Ros- Lehtinen and Democratic Representative Gary Ackerman lead the Caucus.
"We encourage these members to use their leadership role to help usher through a critical agreement that benefits both the United States and our friends in India", the Vice President said.
Maintaining that it was time to update policies and bring it in line with reality, Cheney pointed to four different aspects of the civilian nuclear energy agreement
"First, there is no question that nuclear power is critical to meeting India's energy needs. Those needs are already immense, as we see every day in the competition for crude oil in the world market. Given the forecast for India's increased energy needs in the future, diversifying India's sources of energy is important in relation to the world energy market and to US energy prices.
"And as the United States begins a serious effort to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, it makes sense to encourage others to do the same, and to do so without slowing modernisation, sacrificing economic growth, or bringing needless harm to the environment," Cheney said.
The initiative will also create new business opportunities for US firms, which translates into new jobs for American workers, Cheney said.
"The second key factor is that India will enter the international nonproliferation mainstream by separating its civil and military nuclear programme, adopting international safeguards, and conforming to international standards.
"For more than 30 years, India has remained outside the international nonproliferation fold," Cheney said, pointing to the recent statements of the Chief of the IAEA who argued that India will get "safe and modern" technology to help lift more than 500 million people from poverty and also a part of the international effort to combat nuclear terrorism.
Under the deal, India will maintain a moratorium on nuclear testing and put in place very strict measures to prevent the diversion of nuclear materials and technology. By taking these steps, the agreement strengthens the international non-proliferation regime and plays a vital role in enhancing international security and stability, he said.
"In a time when terrorists are bound and determined to gain access to weapons of mass destruction, nothing is more important than keeping weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear technology, out of the wrong hands. So India's commitment to nonproliferation clearly serves the interests of us all," he said.
"Third, India has a very good nonproliferation track record. India has no interest in the spread of this deadly technology, and by taking additional steps to secure its nuclear materials and technology, India continues to build upon this track record," he added.
Cheney pointed out that like the US, India is an "open, transparent society with a vigorous political process, an energetic free press, oversight and accountability" and that it has acted "more responsibly than some countries that actually signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
"It is only right and sensible that we begin cooperating with India on civil nuclear programs. A civil nuclear deal is plainly in the interests of both countries economically, environmentally and from the standpoint of our national security," he said.
The US Vice President basically covered the entire gamut of the bilateral relationship especially as it has evolved over the last five years leading to a "completely transformed relationship".
"... We have moved ahead with an agenda that is ambitious and forward-looking to fight terror, advance democracy, expand free and fair trade, and provide for our common energy needs. Together, the US and India are determined to confront and defeat the global terror network, which has harmed people in so many parts of the world," he said,pointing to the terror attacks that both India and US have witnessed in recent years.
"...We admire the moral clarity of India's leaders, reflected in the words of Prime Minister Singh in a speech to the United States Congress when he said, ""We must fight terrorism wherever it exists because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere,"" the Vice President said.
He exuded confidence that India will continue to play a leading role in assuring that terrorists are not free to operate in South Asia and that New Delhi "will work closely with its neighbors to resolve long-standing disputes in order to concentrate on rooting out terror, and to maintain stability in the region."