President George W Bush will sign into law on Wednesday the Congressional ratification of the India-US civil nuclear deal to pave the way for the two countries to formally ink the implementing 123 accord.
"On Wednesday, at 2:50 pm (00: 20 am IST on Thursday) in the East Room, the President will sign the India civil nuclear bill," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel told reporters travelling with Bush in San Antonio, Texas on Tuesday.
Lawmakers, prominent members of the Indian American community, leading businessmen of the two countries besides officials and diplomats, who all played a mjor role in pushing the deal through before the Congress took a break for the November 4 election have been invited for the signing ceremony.
Bush is also expected to take care of Indian concerns over a couple of new riders in the legislation that apparently came in the way of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee signing the 123 agreement during her visit to New Delhi over the weekend.
Bush would likely seek to allay India's concerns regarding nuclear fuel assurances, technology transfers for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel with a signing statement as he did over certain "extraneous and prescriptive" provisions in the US enabling law, the Hyde Act in December 2006.
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.
However, despite the White House announcement about the signing ceremony, the State Department was still unwilling to commit when the two countries would formally enter into the 123 agreement to resume nuclear commerce after 30 years. Nor would it comment on the reported Indian concerns.
"I don't know when it will be signed," spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. But "I'm not aware of any concerns that the Indian Government may have, but I'd refer you to them with regard to any concerns that they might have."
Like Rice, he too attributed the delay in signing the 123 agreement to "just administrative matters."
"We've had extensive discussions with the Indians with regard to this agreement and we've covered a wide range of areas," Wood said without elaborating.
"I think the fact that we were able to get this agreement done says a lot about what we've all gone through in terms of working with Congress, with the Indian Government and with others in the international community to bring this, you know, agreement to fruition," he said.
Denying any hiccups had delayed the signing, Woord said: "Well, it's - formally, it's not signed, but let's be real. I mean, the deal has been reached, and it's a great deal for both India and the United States.
But "it will be signed," he asserted again suggesting "it's important to focus on exactly what we've accomplished by reaching this agreement with the Indians. And it's - this, again, is a very big boon to international non-proliferation efforts and it's a very good thing"
Pressed if the implementing agreement would be signed by the Bush administration or "the next lot" that would come in after Bush leaves office in January 2009, Wood said, "You know, I've learned never to put timeframes on things like this."
"We'll just have to see. But the important thing to realise is that the agreement has been done, and it's a good agreement for all of the parties that I mentioned," he added.
After signing into law the legislation passed by Congress approving the 123 Agreement, Bush is also required to certify that the accord is consistent with US obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
He also has to certify that it is the policy of the US to work with members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to further restrict transfers of equipment and technology related to uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
Once the 123 is signed and Bush has made the certifications, India and the US will exchange diplomatic notes pursuant to Article 16(1) of the 123 Agreement, thereby bringing the agreement into force - only then the deal envisioned by Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on July 18, 2005.