President George W. Bush's statement on Vijayadashami reiterating America's nuclear fuel supply commitments to India, as enshrined in the 123 Agreement between the two countries, has naturally gone down well with New Delhi.
The Manmohan Singh government had chosen not to sign the 123 Agreement on Saturday when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in New Delhi, pointing out that an enabling Bill had still to be signed by Bush.
Rattled by a Bush letter to a US Congressman that nuclear fuel supply commitments were only “political” and not legally binding, India was also looking for a reiteration of obligations from Bush. This has now been provided.
“This (enabling) legislation is important as it enables me to bring the 123 Agreement into force and to accept on behalf of the United States the obligations contained in the agreement,” the Bush statement stressed.
So, in fact, Bush was reiterating all American obligations under the 123 Agreement, including those relating to fuel supply and the advance right of reprocessing spent fuel granted to India.
A top South Block official told HT that India was “okay” with the Bush statement, which will be appended to the Bill signed by the US President. “It is like being part of our gazette notification,” the official pointed out. The US had shared the contents of the Bush statement with India in advance so that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee could make plans to leave for Washington, he said.
After three years and more of suspense, India and the US will seal their civil nuclear initiative when Mukherjee and Rice append their signatures to the 123 Agreement in Washington. There is little doubt that within a tight time-frame the US and India have pulled off a deal that changes the rules of the game for New Delhi gaining access to civil nuclear technology.
India is now likely to purchase billions of dollars worth of nuclear reactors from the US, France and Russia, but the real import of the deal is strategic. In the years to come, the US sees India as a key ally which will help in maintaining the global balance of power.
With the nuclear deal done, countries big and small, will keenly watch India's strategic posture.