Political pact, not legalities, will ensure fuel supplies: France (With France offers India ‘first generation’ EPR n-reactor)

September 12th, 2008 - 10:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Sept 12 (IANS) France, a key player in the field of civilian nuclear energy, has made it clear that while fuel supply guarantees were part of its proposed agreement with India, this could be best ensured through a political and commercial understanding, rather than a legal one.”Provisions of fuel supply are part of the agreement with India,” French ambassador Jerome Bonnafont told reporters here Friday.

“This agreement is based on the consistency in bilateral relations, the safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the rules of non-proliferation,” he added.

Referring to the safeguards agreement that India signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 1, the ambassador said: “As long as IAEA safeguards are in place, there is no danger of proliferation.”

Asked how France would react if India tested a nuclear weapon, Bonnafont replied: “It has to be seen in the context in which the test is conducted and the consequences will be decided accordingly.”

He also made it clear that France was willing to help India if it sought his government’s help in acquiring reprocessing technology.

“We consider India has the right and the technology to do it. But if it seeks our help, we are willing to consider the request,” Bonnafont said.

Nearly 35 French companies are negotiating with their Indian counterparts to see how best they can set up joint ventures to cooperate in the field of civil nuclear energy. France is also willing to offer India its ‘first generation’ EPR nuclear reactors that are now being built by the leading French company Areva.

But all this can only happen after India and France formally sign an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. The two sides have “initialed” an agreement but not signed it.

“The agreement has been initialed and technically it is ready. But some procedures are yet to be completed,” Bonnafont said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to visit France at the end of the month to attend the India-European Union Summit and also to hold bilateral talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy

“The issue of cooperation in civil nuclear energy will be at the centre of talks between the two leaders,” the ambassador said.

Bonnafont’s remarks on fuel guarantees is significant as they come at a time when reports in the Indian media have begun doubting the effectiveness of the India-US nuclear deal since the fuel supply assurances given by Washington were not “legally binding”.

After the Nuclear Suppliers Group granted an India-specific waiver, the US is trying its best to push the nuclear deal through Congress to ensure it is up for signing when Manmohan Singh travels to Washington for a meeting with Bush on Sep 25.

A letter written by the US State Department to Howard Bermen, who heads the US House of Representatives foreign relations committee last year - the contents of which were revealed only last week, indicated that the fuel supply assurances given by Washington to New Delhi, were “not legally binding”.

French officials pointed out that guarantees were part of the political and commercial understanding between countries, rather than being a legal issue.

“The logic of the system is that whenever you provide for a nuclear plant, you allow it to function,” the ambassador pointed out.

“You enter into an agreement to supply nuclear fuel. But since the fuel is not easily available, you can get down to provisions that say that no matter what, you will continue to supply the fuel,” he added.

The French position on this sensitive issue makes it clear that though French and American companies might compete with each other to get attractive contracts in India’s civil nuclear energy market, it was unlikely they would get into a legally binding agreement on assured fuel supplies.

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