It wasn’t quite the Kodak moment it should have been. The photo opportunity was to have been a grand Indian and American signature on an agreed civil nuclear cooperation agreement, but it didn’t turn out that way.
With External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee making it clear to visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that President George W. Bush must first sign an enabling Bill, sealing the 123 Agreement awaits another visit, another occasion.
The protocol officers that should have been scurrying around carrying the 123 document at Hyderabad House – the venue of the Mukherjee-Rice dialogue – were missing.
Both Mukherjee and Rice said at a joint press conference that the 123 agreement would be signed soon. “The 123 is done. It’s a matter of signing that agreement. I don’t want anyone to think we have open issues,” Rice stressed.
A senior Indian official said Rice had informed Mukherjee that Bush would sign the enabling Bill next week. “They have also invited the External Affairs Minister to Washington to sign the 123,” the official added.
But the disappointment among American diplomats was evident. One diplomat wondered why there should have been a Rice trip to India if the 123 agreement was not going to be signed.
New Delhi is waiting to see a statement accompanying Bush’s signature, which they hope will reinforce the many commitments of reliable fuel supply contained in the 123 Agreement.
(Mukherjee returned from New York on Friday and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Washington last week)
“After the signature of the [US President], the [legal] process will be complete…then we will be in a position to sign the agreement at mutually convenient dates,” Mukherjee said categorically. “I hope it will be signed shortly.”
He said India and the US were “now in the last lap” in completing the formalities to give effect to the deal. “We look forward to cooperating with the US in signing and bringing the 123 Agreement into effect, and moving on to the commercial arrangements.”
Referring to Indian concerns about whether the bilateral 123 Agreement or US law would prevail in case of a conflict, Rice said, “…the Hyde Act is completely consistent with the 123 Agreement and the 123 Agreement is consistent with the Hyde Act.”
On working to deny with international partners enrichment and reprocessing technologies, she denied that this was something new. “This has been US policy for some time.”
Mukherjee said details of access to reprocessing technologies would be addressed when India enters into detailed contractual arrangements with different parties.