India, US to sign 123 Agreement very soon: Rice

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday described the Indo-US civil nuclear deal as a historic achievement, and said that the implementing 123 Agreement will be signed very soon.

Rice was addressing a joint press conference in New Delhi after meeting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The Secretary of State, who arrived in India earlier today, was due to ink the agreement along with the External Affairs Minister but the signing has been postponed due to procedural issues like delay in President George W Bush signing the legislation passed by the Congress into law.

“The President will sign the legislation (passed by the US Congress) very soon. He wants to do it very soon,” Rice told reporters.

Mukherjee too said that the bilateral nuclear initiative was in the last lap and added that he was looking forward to signing the agreement.

When asked by reporters about the delay in signing the pact, Rice – who will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later in the day – said that “it was a matter of signing the agreement (with India)”. “We don’t have open issues. It is administrative matter of signing,” she added.

The bill once passed has to be transmitted to the White House. It has been a busy time for last several weeks, she said explaining the reasons for the delay in signing the legislation by Bush.

The Secretary of State also reiterated that US will stand by its commitments made to India. Concerning the contentious Hyde Act, she said that the legislation was consistent with the 123 Agreement.

“US will keep its commitments both to the 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act while implementing the nuclear deal with India,” she said.

Asked why India did not sign the agreement today when it could have even before Bush signed the legislation passed by US Congress into law, Mukherjee told reporters that New Delhi will be in a position to ink the pact once the US President signs it into law.

“After the signing (of the agreement) by the (US) President, the process will be complete. Once the process will be complete we will be in a position to sign the agreement soon,” Mukherjee said.

Regarding other issues discussed with Rice, Mukherjee said that the two countries would work together on various issues like climate change and UN reforms, including of the UN Security Council.

On her part, Rice said that they were executing the vision of Prime Minister Singh and President Bush in forging closer relations between India and the US. “The relationship (between India and the US) goes beyond nuclear co-operation,” she added.

According to the Secretary of State, the relationship with India was one of the broadest that the US enjoys with any country.

She further said that the two countries were hoping to work together on the economic as well as world trade front.

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