India, France shake on 'peaceful' nuclear deal

20th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

NEW DELHI, Feb 20, 2006 (AFP) - Fuel-hungry India and France, a big nuclear power producer, signed Monday a declaration saying they wanted to pursue nuclear energy cooperation "exclusively for peaceful purposes."

NEW DELHI, Feb 20, 2006 (AFP) - Fuel-hungry India and France, a big nuclear power producer, signed Monday a declaration saying they wanted to pursue nuclear energy cooperation "exclusively for peaceful purposes."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and Anil Kakodkar, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, signed the declaration in the presence of French President Jacques Chirac and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

India and France, which relies heavily on nuclear power to meet its energy needs, affirmed in the declaration "their willingness to further develop their cooperation in the use of nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes".

The declaration was a highlight of Chirac's three-day visit to India which ends on Tuesday.

After arriving in the Indian capital Sunday at the head of a posse of ministers and French business chiefs, Chirac said he was optimistic France could compete with the United States in supplying nuclear power capability to energy-starved India.

New Delhi, however, would first have to reach agreement with the international nuclear community on its civilian nuclear energy programme, Chirac added.

Specifically, he told India Today magazine India must first win the support of the 44-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) for civilian nuclear technology transfers. Under NSG rules, countries importing nuclear technology must provide assurances proposed deals will not lead to the creation of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear cooperation between Paris and New Delhi hinges on the success of talks between India and the United States on a landmark Indo-US agreement to supply New Delhi with long-denied civilian nuclear technology.

India and the United States have been at odds over Washington's demands for India to open up more of its nuclear facilities to international inspection.

France will be unable to sell export-restricted technology to India, according to the rules of the NSG — of which Paris is a key member —  unless there is a breakthrough in the Indo-US talks.

The declaration said France and India looked forward to "adjustments of the international civil nuclear cooperation framework with respect to India and confirm their intention to work to that end".

Last September, when Prime Minister Singh was visiting Paris, France joined the United States and Britain in supporting India's nuclear energy programme.

France vowed to do all it could to help India obtain access to civilian nuclear technology and the two leaders said then they would work towards a bilateral agreement in that area.

Now India is also negotiating a landmark deal with Washington to give Delhi access to previously forbidden nuclear civilian technology. But talks are deadlocked over India's separation of military and civilian nuclear facilities.

US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, chief negotiator for the deal, said at the weekend Washington remains optimistic that it will clinch the deal.

"We're 90 percent of the way there," Burns told Newsweek magazine ahead of a trip to India later this week.

The senior diplomat's comments come before a scheduled visit to India by President George W. Bush in March amid hopes for a final agreement on the civilian nuclear cooperation initiative.

French companies could be big winners if the landmark Indo-US deal is approved by the US Congress.

The head of French nuclear giant Areva, Anne Lauvergeon, said the Indian market had "considerable" potential as the country needs 25 to 30 nuclear power stations to fuel its rapidly growing economy and cater to its billion-plus population.

The other item on the agenda is bilateral trade, which remained limited at US $2.99 billion in 2004-05, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry.

France bought 2.05 percent of Indian exports, while France's share of India's imports was just 1.3 percent.

Chirac removed a major obstacle to a fruitful visit ahead of his arrival when he ordered home the asbestos-laden warship Clemenceau, which had been slated for dismantling in an Indian ship breaking yard.

India's Supreme Court had demanded to know exactly what was aboard the decommissioned aircraft carrier, which activists said posed a threat to human health and the environment.

But Chirac's salesmanship could yet be overshadowed by another thorny issue — concern in India over the frosty reaction by France and other European nations to Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal's bid for European steel giant Arcelor.

Last week, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath warned European nations opposing the bid not to consider the colour of a person's skin.

France insists Mittal's nationality is not a factor, with Chirac saying the takeover would not be in Arcelor's "best interest," citing potential corporate cultural differences.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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