US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that as important as the India-US civil nuclear deal is, it is a part of a much broader framework for enduring friendship between the two countries.
"And it is indeed an historic agreement," she said on Thursday at a thanksgiving event organised at the State Department's ornate Treaty Room to "honour contributors to passage of" the implementing 123 agreement by the US Congress.
Joining the celebrations were among others Under Secretary for Political Affairs William J. Burns and other involved State Department officials, Senate Foreign Relations Committee acting chairman, Christopher J. Dodd, the top Republican on the panel, Richard G. Lugar and India's deputy chief of mission Raminder Singh Jassal.
"It is an agreement that cements an effort that we have been making for some time to bring together the world's largest democracy with the world's oldest continuous democracy," said Rice thanking "a lot of architects and driving forces behind this agreement."
"And we believe that the relationship between the United States and India is on a very firm footing, and that can only be good for democracy and it can only be good for the world," she said.
"Obviously, this has been Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh and President (George W.) Bush's vision to have this agreement cement and be one of the cornerstones of our relationship, but I just want to take a moment to say that it is not the only element of this relationship," Rice said.
"As much as the Civil Nuclear Agreement is a breakthrough, this is also a friendship that is based on values, a friendship that is based on ties, people-to-people ties, including the 80,000 or so Indian students who study in the United States," she said.
"I know that the US-India Business Council is here representing the varied interests that we have economically with India," Rice said. "It is a relationship that is cultural. It is a relationship that goes very, very deep."
"So as important as this agreement is, it is a part of a much broader framework for our enduring friendship," she added.
"I want to say, though, that without, of course, the United States Congress in a completely bipartisan way, this would not have been possible," said America's top diplomat who has led the Bush administration's all out efforts to get the deal done before the lawmakers leave break for the Nov 4 elections.
Thanking the invitees "from the Indian Embassy, our wonderful friends who have been so steadfast," Rice mentioned that she had talked on the phone with Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is currently in New York. "I will join him there in a couple of days, and I look forward to that."
Paying a tribute to the vision of "Manmohan Singh and President Bush who began this journey in 2005," Jassal said: "The Civil Nuclear Initiative is one aspect of India-US ties. But because it represents such a change and transformation, it became emblematic of the new relationship."
"So we are at the end of the process and at the beginning of deeper cooperation," he added.
Dodd, who in the words of Rice "did a magnificent job in shepherding this through for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," called it "a tremendously important moment for our two countries" and "a proud moment."
"Given the neighbourhood in which India resides, given the tremendous issues that this century is going to pose this agreement will serve, as a foundation, a bedrock for these two great democracies to serve as a beacon of hope for people in that region, "he said.
Calling it "a great moment for both of our countries and for the world," Lugar said: "We'll never make it as a world, given the size and the scope of our economies and our countries, if we do not offer leadership (on climate change issues). But the physical elements of having fissile material to be able to do the peaceful nuclear thing is of the essence."