US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been described as "the architect" and the "driving force" behind the historic US-India civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, hosted a hurriedly organised reception in the Treaty Room of the State Department on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the US Senate ratification of the deal, but did not disclose whether she will ink the accord while she is in New Delhi on Saturday.
At the event, which the State Department said was "to thank State Department employees and others guests for their efforts" to make the deal a reality, Rice said, "I've been on the phone with Foreign Minister (Pranab) Mukherjee just a few minutes ago (the external affairs minister is in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly sessions). He will go to Delhi. I will join him in a couple of days, and I look forward to that."
Earlier, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack announced that Rice would travel to India and Kazakhstan on October 3-5 and that "in India, she will meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Mukherjee, Opposition leader Lal Kishenchand Advani and other Indian leaders."
"They will discuss a wide range of issues, including US-India civil nuclear cooperation initiative, trade, counter-terrorism, human rights, religious freedom, and education," he said.
At the reception, after Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns introduced her as the "architect and the driving force behind this historic effort," Rice, while acknowledging the sustained applause, declared, "All that I can say is that there were a lot of architects and driving forces behind this agreement. And it is indeed an historic agreement."
"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. 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," Rice said.
Saying that she was not going to make a formal speech, she said to peals of laughter that "everyone knows the arguments about this agreement. If you don't know them by now, then I don't know what rock you've been hiding under, because we've certainly made them."
She said the event was "really a thank you -- a thank you to all the people who have made this possible," and looking toward the charge d'affaires at the Indian embassy in Washington, Ambassador Raminder Singh Jassal, she noted, "I'd like to thank you from the Indian embassy, our wonderful friends who have been so steadfast." She then referred to her call with Mukherjee.
Rice said that while "obviously, this has been Prime Minister Singh and President Bush's vision to have this agreement cemented and be one of the cornerstones of our relationship," she noted that this was not the be-all and the end-all of US-India ties.
"I just want to take a moment to say that it is not the only element of this relationship. 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."
"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 part of a much broader framework for our enduring friendship," she added.
Rice, pointing to Acting Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Christopher Dodd, the ranking Republican on the panel Senator Richard Lugar, and Congressman Ed Royce, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a former GOP co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, said, "I want to say, though, that without, of course, the United States Congress (working) in a completely bipartisan way, this would not have been possible."
She said that "Senator Dodd did a magnificent job in shepherding this through for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee," and also noted that "I did talk with Senator (Joe) Biden (the chairman of the committee now busy on the campaign trail as Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate) a couple of times in between various events and he worked very, very hard, too, but he knew that he'd left it in good hands."
Rice said she had also spoken and thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the ranking Republican on the Committee Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
"So this has been an all-out effort. I'm very proud of the State Department team, but I am especially proud of our cooperation with the United States Congress," she reiterated.
Dodd, in his remarks, said, "This is a tremendously important moment for our two countries," and while acknowledging that the "details of the agreement are certainly important," argued that "there are issues here that transcend the specifics of this agreement."
"There has been this sort of unspoken, but realised tension over the past 35 years or so that we needed to get beyond. And certainly, given the neighbourhood in which India resides, given the tremendous issues that this century is going to pose for those who come long after we've finished our work here, this agreement will serve as a foundation, a bedrock for these two great democracies, ours and yours, to serve as hopefully, as a beacon of hope for people in that region, but also as an opportunity for us to work together for that common cause," Dodd said.
"And so this is a proud moment," he added.
Lugar, in his remarks said, "It was a day in which we had a debate, but in which those offering amendments that we thought would be delaying or destructive finally allowed a voice vote so that we did not go through the embarrassment of having more and more division on the situation."
The lawmaker, one of the most respected and cerebral, and a fierce advocate of nonproliferation, paid tribute to President Bush and Dr Singh "for that original state dinner in which our countries came together. And I pay tribute to Secretary Rice for the follow-through, through a long and tedious procedure, and the Indian parliament for almost two years of difficulty, and in our situation for the same period."
And, then to much laughter, Lugar declared, "We've grown together. We like each other."
"As a matter of fact, our people in business have come back and forth in increasing numbers with more and more creative ideas on how not only to serve the people of our countries, but to serve the world productively," he said.
Jassal, in his remarks in profusely thanking Rice, said it was a "great honour to be here with you to have a joint celebration, as it were, of reaching the final stage of a journey that we began in 2005."
He told Rice that he would like to pay tribute to her in particular for her leadership, "because it was your vision and your ideas on the transformation of India-US relations that actually brought this about."
Jassal too agreed with the secretary that the nuclear deal "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.