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123 deal signed and sealed
Indian, US governments to carry out final review
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

After months of painstaking negotiations on details of a civilian nuclear agreement, the United States and India on Friday afternoon announced they had reached a deal.

Both sides refused to divulge details of this agreement, which is being taken back by the Indian team for approval by New Delhi.

In a joint statement, the two sides described the four-day discussions in Washington this week as "constructive and positive." Talks were extended twice this week as negotiators struggled to reach an agreement.

Both under secretary R. Nicholas Burns and foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon "are pleased with the substantial progress made on the outstanding issues in the 123 Agreement," the statement said, adding, "We will now refer the issue to our governments for final review."

The statement said, "Both the United States and India look forward to the completion of these remaining steps and to the conclusion of this historic initiative."

A joint statement is likely during secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's visit to New Delhi later this year.

Congressional sources remained skeptical saying the agreement will face its real test in New Delhi and Washington, where critics are waiting to pick holes in it.

The Bush administration has kept key members of Congress in the loop on the progress in the negotiations. Congress overwhelmingly passed enabling legislation - the Hyde Act - last year and President George W. Bush signed it into law in December. Sources told The Tribune that Rice will soon personally assure lawmakers that each of their concerns had been addressed.

According to sources both sides reached a compromise on two key sticking points - New Delhi's demands for a guarantee of uninterrupted fuel supply in case it tests a nuclear weapon, and the right to reprocess spent fuel.

While in Washington, national security adviser M.K. Narayanan and Menon met with vice-president Dick Cheney, Rice, defence secretary Robert Gates, and with US national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley.

At the State Department on Friday, deputy spokesman Tom Casey said, "We believe that concluding a 123 Agreement is something that is vital to being able to fully implement the US-India Civil Nuclear Accord and is something that is important for both countries as well as for reinforcing the non-proliferation regime through an advancing dialogue between the United States and India, as well as India's dialogue with the IAEA in terms of bringing some of their facilities under inspection and under the non-proliferation regime."

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