US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice en route to India with the US-India civilian nuclear deal under her belt is gung-ho about the future of US-India relations and has said now, that this accord as it has been consummated, it's time to look even further ahead.
According to a transcript of her briefing to reporters traveling with her to New Delhi, Rice said, "I am very much looking forward to going to India, really to just reaffirm the extraordinary progress that we've made in US-India relations under the visionary leadership of President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh."
"This is a relationship that now has a firm foundation to reach its full potential," she said.
When she was quizzed repeatedly if she was going to Delhi to sign the nuclear deal, she said, "There are a lot of administrative details that have to be worked out. This was only passed in our Congress two days ago."
Rice said President Bush "is looking forward to signing the bill, sometime, I hope very soon, because we want to use it as an opportunity to thank all of the people who have been involved in this. That means the Indian-American community, the US-India business community and the diplomats and others who have been involved."
So you know, we are working through administrative details, but I am going to draw a line under this one, one way or another because this is now time to put the historic agreement, say that's done and move on to what else we can do, because we've got a very broad relationship."
Thus, Rice reiterated, "Look the important thing about this trip is to talk about the next steps in the US-India relationship, not the last step, which I feel, we, in some ways, put a line under that when we talked about in the State Department (at a celebration she hosted on Thursday)."
However, she said it was not mandatory that the president has to sign the deal because she signs any of the technical agreements that make up the whole. "But we are working through the details of this. I'll let you know. The whole purpose of this trip is to move forward, not to look where we are."
When the issue of testing was brought up since it was what permeated the debate on Capitol Hill, and when asked if she would warn New Delhi against taking such a route in the future, Rice said, "I think we've been very clear about US views on this issue."
"The Indians have a lot at stake here. And they have made very clear that what they want to do is move on to civil nuclear cooperation. And, I think they understand the grounds on which we've done this," she asserted.
"The United States is going to remain true to its commitments under the Hyde Act, and true to its commitments that President Bush has made to Dr Singh. And, I know the Indians will do the same," Rice said.
Asked how much of her message in India is 'Buy American', Rice replied, "You know it's not. I'm confident that the American companies will compete. We're free traders. And, we believe that American companies will compete."
"What we've done is to demonstrate that the United States was willing to take a strategic step that has made it possible for India to enter a new realm in terms of its ability to cooperate and to be integrated into what is a global industry that is bigger than just nuclear reactors. Nuclear technology and technology cooperation are -- there are a lot of associated industries," she explained.
But making clear that Washington went to bat for India with the implication being that US companies would certainly be looking for a level playing field at the very least, Rice made the point that "the Indians recognise that the United States took that strategic step and helped India get through the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency and so forth. But ultimately, what American companies are really asking is an opportunity to demonstrate their capability and what they can do. And that's what we expect that they will do."
"What the civil nuclear deal does is that it removes for India, a barrier to full integration on a whole range of technologies. But more importantly, it is symbolic of a relationship with India that's now at a very, very different level. And, at that different level, one would expect that economic relations, defense relations, a whole range of relationships, including business relationships, will flourish," Rice said.
"But they'll flourish on their own terms," she said, and acknowledged, "Yes, the framework for US-India relations is significantly different than it was when President Bush and Dr Singh took this on in 2005."
On the issue of Afghanistan, when asked how India could help out and if it were to involve intelligence sharing about the movement of militant groups, Rice immediately replied, "No," but then went on to explain, "First of all, India has a very good relationship with Afghanistan and is a good neighbour for Afghanistan, has significant investments in Afghanistan."
"And, so it's really the context on being part of the coalition of states that really want to see a stable Afghanistan and are contributing to it. Obviously, we have information sharing as well. But I would emphasise the political and economic support for Afghanistan," Rice added.