France first off the mark, US n-accord to follow (Roundup)

September 30th, 2008 - 9:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghParis, Sep 30 (IANS) France, home to the world’s most advanced nuclear technologies, Tuesday became the first country in the world to ink a defining civil nuclear agreement with India after a global cartel lifted three decades of an atomic trade embargo against New Delhi early this month. In the presence of visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the two countries announced a “a new dimension” to their strategic partnership by signing a cooperation agreement on civilian nuclear energy as well as two more pacts in areas ranging from space and counter-terrorism to business and high-end research.

“Today we have added a new dimension to our strategic partnership by signing an inter-governmental agreement on civil nuclear cooperation,” a beaming Manmohan Singh, who has taken the lead in the long battle for India’s nuclear liberation, said after holding talks with Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace.

“I believe my visit has opened new vistas in our relations with France which are based on the solid foundation of our shared commitment to democracy, pluralism and the rule of law,” Manmohan Singh said in remarks to the press.

The bilateral nuclear cooperation pact was signed by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and India’s Atomic Energy Commission chief Anil Kakodkar, a key interlocutor on nuclear issues with both the US and France, at the Elysee Palace.

“The agreement will enable India and France to move forward in the area of civil nuclear cooperation. This will help us to augment the share of nuclear power in India’s energy mix,” Kakodkar told reporters after the talks.

Nuclear energy contributes only 3 percent to India’s requirements of electricity compared to France’s dependence on nuclear power for about 77 percent of its electricity requirements. According to published data, France has 58 operating reactors, the highest numbers after the US.

The agreement makes Paris the first country to sign such a pact after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group Sep 6 lifted over three decades of global restrictions on nuclear trade with India.

The pact clears the way for French nuclear giants like Areva to begin supplying nuclear reactors to India.

The actual nuclear trade may, however, have to wait till India signs the 123 bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US which is poised for a consideration by the US Senate this week. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to visit India later this week to wrap up the 123 deal with India.

“We are carrying out similar processes with other countries. These are parallel processes. We will sign formal pacts with them also,” Menon said when asked whether India can begin nuclear trade with France before sealing the 123 pact with the US.

Areva is already involved in negotiating the sale of two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) with India. “France has made huge strides in pressurised water reactors (PWRs) . EPR is the third generation EPR,” Kakodkar said when asked whether India is planning to buy EPRs from France.

“We will conduct techno-economic configuration which will enable India to produce electricity in the most competitive conditions,” Kakodkar said.

The agreement on the development of peaceful uses of nuclear energy will form the basis of wide-ranging bilateral civil nuclear cooperation.

The cooperation will span the entire gamut from basic and applied research to reactors, nuclear fuel supply, nuclear safety, radiation and environment, protection and nuclear fuel cycle management. Significantly, the pact allows India to reprocess spent fuel, Kakodkar explained, which will allow India to reprocess in its own facilities under the IAEA safeguards.

The two countries also decided to accelerate business by setting up a bilateral trade target of 12 billion euros by 2012 and agreed to set up a CEOs forum to intensify their business ties.

They jointly advocated reform of the UN and international financial institutions.

“The social security agreement will help in the movement of professionals of both countries and enhance company-to-company linkages,” Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said, adding that the pact will boost business ties between the two countries.

The pact on peaceful uses of outer space, inked by Kouchner and G. Madavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), will spur India’s participation in civilian space commerce trade.

They also decided to transform current buyer-seller relationship in the defence field to joint production and transfer of cutting-edge technology.

The two leaders also discussed their growing convergence of perceptions on global issues ranging from terrorism, climate change and global trade negotiations to UN reforms and need for changes in international financial institutions.

“India and France agree on the need for greater international cooperation to deal with challenges facing mankind,” a joint statement said.

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