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Nuclear Deal is Deal of the Century for Indians

India Post, News Report, Srirekha N. Chakravarty Posted: Oct 13, 2008

WASHINGTON D.C.: "It's a big deal." That's what a jubilant President George W. Bush said minutes before signing the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Nonproliferation Enhancement Act at the White House on Oct 8. President Bush's exclamation, however matter-of-fact in his enunciation, signifies the Herculean efforts that went into the making of the bill as well as its significance to the futures of both countries.

It underscored too, his gratitude for the many supporters of the civil nuclear deal in the Congress and the community. And for a President who saw unprecedented low approval ratings at home, the bringing to fruition of the nuclear deal with India, against humungous odds, at the fag end of his beleaguered tenure - taking credit for leaving behind the legacy of opening up the floodgates of immeasurable economic opportunities between the two countries -- it was indeed a big deal. Not letting up on establishing the significance of dealing with the Super Power, the President proclaimed, "This agreement sends a signal to the world: Nations that follow the path of democracy and responsible behavior will find a friend in the United States of America."

And so, with the stroke of a pen, the President not only reversed years of American foreign policy, but also ended 34 years of global nuclear apartheid against India. The festive mood was palpable in the East Room of the White House last Wednesday afternoon where more than 200 Indian American community leaders, diplomats, representatives of US-India business groups, Administration officials and others gathered to be part of history - to witness the moment when the President signed the bilateral Act of far reaching implications into domestic law. Significantly, putting to rest any residual doubts that cynics on the Indian side might have, the President said, the legislation "makes no changes" to the terms of the 123 agreement that he had submitted to Congress.

Most importantly, the President said the legislation does not change the fuel assurance commitments that the United States government has made to the government of India, as recorded in the 123 agreement. "The agreement also grants India 'advance consent to reprocessing' -- which will be brought into effect upon the conclusion of arrangements and procedures for a dedicated reprocessing facility under IAEA safeguards," President Bush added. Stating that the bill makes clear that America's agreement with India is consistent with the Atomic Energy Act and other elements of US law, President Bush said, "By passing this legislation, my administration and Congress demonstrate our common view that nuclear cooperation is in the interest of both the United States and India."

In that brief address - sincere, with a tad bit of humor -- prior to the actual signing, President Bush thanked several key players behind the making of the deal, by name. "Today, I have the honor of signing legislation that builds on the growing ties between the world's two largest democracies, India and the United States," he said. "This legislation will enhance our cooperation in using nuclear energy to power our economies; it will help us work together even more closely to reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation across the world." "This legislation represents more than three years of hard work by a lot of people," he said. "I appreciate the work of the Indian-American leaders from across the nation. I thank the members of the United States Congress for working hard on this piece of legislation.

I'm especially grateful for the leadership provided by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who worked hard to make sure this bill made it through both Houses at the very end of the session," he added with a meaningful smile. Among the several others who worked hard to get this legislation done were leaders of the Foreign Affairs Committees in the House and the Senate -- Senator Joe Biden and Dick Lugar; Senator Chris Dodd, Representatives Howard Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; and "the two leaders who played an important role in crafting this legislation" the late Henry Hyde and the late Tom Lantos.

Standing behind the President while he signed the law were John Warner, Senator from Virginia; Eliot Engel, Democrat, House Foreign Affairs committee member from New York; Congressman Joe Crowley, also a Democrat, from New York; members of the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Sam Bodman at the Department of Energy; and Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen. Expressing his appreciation for the "incredibly efficient work of the US Ambassador to India David Mulford," who was present on the occasion along with his wife Jeannie, President Bush said, "You didn't do so bad yourself, Ambassador."

"Even though the United States and India are separated by half the globe, we are natural partners as we head into the 21st century," President Bush said. "Both our nations emerged from a colonial past to establish vibrant democracies. We have welcomed investment and private enterprise to become leaders in the global economy. We have stood against the dangers posed by extremists, who have carried out attacks in both our countries.

We have demonstrated that we cherish liberty, honor human dignity, and respect the rule of law." He, however, added that despite these common interests and values, it was not long ago that relations between the United States and India were strained. "In recent years, we've worked to transform our relationship into a strong strategic partnership. One area where we saw tremendous potential for cooperation is energy. As our economies have grown, our demands for energy have grown, as well. It's become increasingly clear that we need to generate that energy in ways that are safe and clean and secure."

"One energy source that can generate large amounts of electricity with zero emissions of air pollution or greenhouse gases is nuclear power," he continued. "So three years ago, Prime Minister Singh -- who I consider a dear friend -- and I resolved to work together on a landmark agreement paving the way for our nations to cooperate on nuclear power." By undertaking new cooperation on civil nuclear energy, the President said India would be able to count on a reliable fuel supply for its civilian reactors, meet the energy demands of its people, and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. "For our part, the United States will gain access to a growing market for civilian nuclear technologies and materials that will help American businesses create more jobs for our people here at home," he added.

This agreement between the US and India would also strengthen global nonproliferation efforts, President Bush said, elaborating on India's commitment to operate its civil nuclear energy program under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international guidelines. "India will continue to build on its strong record of responsibility in operating its nuclear facilities," he said. "And India and the United States will cooperate more closely to keep the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of extremists and terrorists." Voicing his confidence that the friendship between India and the US would grow even closer in the years ahead, President Bush drove the message home closer to the hearts of Indians everywhere, by extending his best wishes for Diwali, the festival of lights.

"Laura and I send our best wishes to the hundreds of millions of people in India and around the world who will begin celebrating the ancient festival of Diwali later this month. As we offer our prayers for a happy new year, we can be thankful that the relationship between the United States and India has never been more vibrant and more hopeful." The signing ceremony brought to a logical end the bold steps that President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh undertook in July 2005 in their ambitious journey to bring the US and India closer on a strategic plane.

The celebratory reception

Despite the nation's financial meltdown plaguing the Bush Administration shenanigans, the White House did not allow the celebratory mood of the signing ceremony to be dampened. Although the media was politely herded out soon after the ceremony, the invited Indian American guests were treated to a sumptuous reception of champagne, wine and exotic Indian hors d'oeuvres. Before moving onto the reception, community leaders demonstrated their excitement with appropriate back patting and hand pumping, and locking of the historic moments for posterity by getting each other photographed on the dais with the podium where the President had stood minutes before. More excited perhaps were the representatives of the business community like Ron Somers of the US-India Business Council and Kiran Pasricha of the Confederation of Indian Industries - USA. "This is just an amazing day for us," Pasricha gushed, as she talked to India Post. "We worked so hard for this… its great, absolutely fabulous."

"We were losing hope at one point because of the pressures on the (Congressional) calendar, but to actually see this happen and well, we got a thing ahead of us now," she said. "It's onto new business, next steps in business opportunities… it hasn't finished for us, it has just begun; be it in technology, infrastructure, in every way, our work has just begun, so we are very, very excited. We have been preparing for this day and this is really what we need and want as the next step for our companies." Democratic Representative from New York, Congressman Joseph Crowley, a long time friend of India, told reporters who caught him rushing out of the White House, "This has been a long time in the making. We have been there every step of the way and we are proud of the input that we had.

The President's recognition of the bipartisan nature of how this bill came about was really good; it was a bipartisan effort by the President and the Congress." Crowley said the deal seals an important relationship for this century - that of India and the US. "I have been saying this for sometime now and others are saying it now. I am glad to see that my thoughts and visions are being appreciated by my colleagues as well. This is deeper than just the event itself or the signing, this is about our relationship going forward in this century and I am very happy for it."

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