US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice believes that the "path-breaking" India-US civilian nuclear deal could be completed by the end of the year "with will and determination and more hard work."
"We're not quite there yet, but with will and determination and more hard work to do, I am certain that we will reach final agreement and be in a position to complete this deal by the end of the year," Rice told Indian and US business leaders in Washington on Wednesday.
New Delhi and Washington have had several round of talks to finalise the implementing 123 agreement since the deal for the resumption of nuclear commerce was approved in principle by the US Congress last December, but differences persist over a couple of issues.
India is unwilling to forego the right to conduct another nuclear test and reprocess spent fuel. US says these conditions are required by the enabling Hyde Act, while India considers them beyond the pale of understanding reached by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush on July 18, 2005 and March 2, 2006.
In a keynote address at the US-India Business Council's "Global India" summit, Rice described the civilian nuclear deal as a pillar of a bilateral relationship that has overcome Cold War estrangement but "just scratched the surface" in areas where the world's two biggest democracies could cooperate.
"The key that unlocks so much of our potential is our partnership: the fact that as partners, democratic partners, we can do much that is good in the world. And one of the keys to our partnership is the US-India Civil Nuclear Initiative," she said.
"Wrapping up this agreement will open new doors of cooperation for us in the nuclear field," Rice said, "...and when we have done this, we will open even more doors in business and science, in agriculture and development, for energy and the environment, and of course, perhaps most importantly, to help strengthen and safeguard international security."
"I cannot tell you how much the world is watching to see if we can complete this, because if we can, we are on our way to a tremendous future, not just in this area but in many other areas as well," she said.
Rice said the pact enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States and concluding it required that both Washington and New Delhi "stay faithful to the agreements that our leaders signed" and "stay faithful to the legislation we have passed."
There is strong commitment to the deal "on the parts of both governments because we have strong commitment on the part of our leaders," she said in reply to a question from the audience.
"When Bush and Singh went down this road of trying to break the barriers to civil nuclear cooperation, they knew that it would be historic. They knew that it would be path-breaking and they therefore knew that it would be difficult. Had this been easy, it would have been done a long time ago.
"And so the judgments that leaders make is - not is it difficult, but is it worth it. And they have both clearly made the decision that it's worth it. That means that those of us who are then charged with making it happen have to be tireless in our efforts to make certain that it does happen," Rice said.
"I think that this is a win/win if ever there were one," she said but noted that the 123 agreement is not the last step. "We still have other work to do with Nuclear Suppliers Group and so forth."
Noting that the relationship between India and the United States has reached new heights under the leadership of Singh and Bush, Rice said, "It has reached new heights, though, not because of the government-to-government relationship, but because this relationship is the story of peoples."
"The greatest opportunity for our countries, now and in the years ahead, is not just to continue, though, building a strong relationship, a strong partnership, but it's putting that partnership to use in the world, on behalf of the interests and the ideals that we share."
"It's not going to be easy, but it is a challenge that is worthy of two great democracies, worthy of India and the United States. It is a challenge to which I think we are equal. I know it is a challenge to which we are committed," Rice said.