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India, US may ink N-deal during Bush’s visit
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 21
There are twin good news for India’s civilian nuclear energy programme under negotiations with P5 countries like the United States and France.
Indications are that a formal Indo-US civilian nuclear energy agreement may be signed during the India visit of President George W. Bush 10 days later. This will be the next step forward after the July 18 Indo-US Joint Statement.

Paris is also sanguine about its negotiations with New Delhi on a similar civilian nuclear energy deal, though it is months away. This is evident from the fact that a leading French company has already started feasibility studies for setting up a nuclear power plant in Maharashtra.

This was conveyed by the French side to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday during his meeting with 30 CEOs and top officials who accompanied President Chirac during his state visit here.

The Prime Minister also chaired a top-level meeting today with Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran to discuss the upcoming Bush visit. The meeting also discussed the Indian strategy for upcoming talks here with a key American official.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns is arriving here tomorrow evening for talks with his Indian counterpart, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, on February 23 and 24. It is expected that final nuts and bolts would be fastened during these talks so that the civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement can be a major concrete deliverable during Bush’s India visit.

Burns has already gone on record saying in an interview to “Newsweek” that the Indo-US nuclear energy deal was almost 90 per cent through. During Burns’ talks with the Indians, it is expected that Washington may give a major concession to New Delhi: the Americans may agree to keep India’s fast breeder reactors (FBRs) out of the purview of international safeguards until 2010, when they become operational.

India does not want to keep FBRs in the civilian list in the ongoing, complex exercise of separating India’s civil and military nuclear facilities. On its part, the US has already indicated its willingness to accept India’s separation plan in a phased manner, considering the technicalities involved.

The Indo-French nuclear agreement, currently being negotiated at the level of the two countries’ National Security Advisers, is predicated upon the implementation of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

France has already given feelers to India to this effect and has also talked about the need for lifting of restrictions on India by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). The next meeting of the NSG is scheduled for May.

French cooperation in the field of nuclear energy will be more crucial than Americans’ because of the French expertise in building nuclear power plants. Unlike the US, which has not built a single nuclear power plant in last three decades, France meets 80 per cent of its power requirement from nuclear sources.

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