The India-US civil nuclear deal paving the way for resumption of nuclear commerce between the two countries after 30 years may well become a reality by early 2008, suggests chief US negotiator Nicholas Burns.
The US under secretary of state for political affairs is set to have discussions on the whole gamut of bilateral relations with visiting Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon in Washington on Wednesday.
Once negotiations over implementing the bilateral 123 agreement are completed, the accord will come up for US Congressional approval in an up or down vote with no room for amendment by the end of this year or early 2008, he said at a dinner hosted on Monday by the US-India Friendship Council.
President George Bush will then sign the final bill into law. "I am determined that we are going to get there as quickly as possible — I know we will," he said and added, "We will continue to rely on this bipartisan support that's being built up as we go along."
The US official appreciated the role played by the Indian-American community in convincing members of the US Congress to support the deal and said the enactment of the enabling legislation "really was the coming out party of the Indian-American community in the United States".
As a career diplomat he was non-partisan, Burns said as he acknowledged: "We have to give credit to president Clinton, because in my view, president Clinton was the first American president who had the vision to say: 'We can have a strategic global partnership with India'."
Menon, who is visiting Washington for a two-day High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG) meeting, is expected to follow up on the discussions prime minister's special envoy on nuclear issues Shyam Saran had in Washington last month with Burns on the way forward on the 123 Agreement.
The Indian official is also expected to convey New Delhi's concerns over certain elements of the enabling US legislation signed by Bush last December.
New Delhi is not ready to accept any legally binding provision on future nuclear testing in the 123 Agreement. Nor is it happy with provisions relating to conditional access to reprocessing technology, end use verification of reprocessed fuel and the attempt to cap India's strategic nuclear programme.
An early conclusion of an agreement will provide broad contours for India to negotiate a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
On his first visit to Washington after taking over as foreign secretary last October, Menon will also meet Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials in the departments of state, commerce, agriculture, energy, defence and the National Security Council.