Indo-US ties in for transformation Agree on dialogue on nuclear fuel supply

Indo-US ties in for transformation
Agree on dialogue on nuclear fuel supply
From H.K. Dua

Washington, July 18
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush embarked on a joint venture today to build a forward-looking partnership between India and the United States.

Beginning a process which could make the Indo-US relations vastly deeper and strategic in dimension, the two leaders agreed to cooperate in such vital areas as civil nuclear energy, technological transfers in some sensitive fields like civil space research and fight against terrorism. They also agreed to cooperate in new areas of agricultural research and in combating HIV/AIDS.

The issue of India’s claim to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council was conveniently placed on the backburner so far as Indo-US relations were concerned, although India would persist with its drive to mobilise support for its candidature in the UN lobby.

Not to miss an opportunity to stress India’s claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council, Dr Manmohan Singh said in his opening remarks at the joint Press conference he addressed with President Bush that “India has a compelling case for a permanent membership of the Security Council”.

“We are convinced that India can significantly contribute to UN decision-making and capabilities,” he added.

The issue of permanent membership of the Security Council had apparently got relegated to the background in Washington as it had made it clear even before Dr Manmohan Singh landed in the US capital last evening that the time had not come for it to declare US support for India on this issue.

The Indian delegation itself read the signal and chose not to allow it to come in the way of the growing understanding with the US on this issue.

For India, the most important issue is how best to get supply of nuclear fuel, which it badly needs for its nuclear power reactors. India also wants the latest technology for manufacturing advanced nuclear reactors.

The Prime Minister said at the Press conference: “I and President Bush had discussed the importance of ensuring adequate energy and affordable supplies at a time when oil prices remained high. Both of us recognised that the civilian nuclear energy has a greater role in meeting global energy demands. We, in India, have an ambitious and attainable national road map in this regard. We look forward to President Bush’s strong leadership on this important issue”.

President Bush nodded in agreement. He had earlier in his opening remarks, pointed out that India and the US had already begun a bilateral dialogue on cooperation in civil nuclear energy. The question has become important in view of the rise in the world oil prices and the mounting demand for power in India.

While India needs more nuclear power to save on oil, it finds existing US sanctions restrictive. Because of these restrictions, India cannot have fuel as well as high technology, which it needs for putting up nuclear power reactors. The talks have been aimed at initiating a process for the United States’ easing some of these sanctions.

After the Pokharan nuclear tests, India could not get nuclear fuel or technology from the United States or other countries mainly because of Washington’s reservations on India’s refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

This is despite the fact that India has been a responsible nuclear power and has never passed on nuclear material or technology to any other country. Also, it has recently passed a law in Parliament against weapons of mass destruction to underscore its being a responsible nuclear power.

During the talks, the Prime Minister underscored the need for lifting restrictions on the flow of nuclear fuel and technology. Apparently, the bilateral talks which the two countries have initiated will aim at lifting these restrictions.

In his opening remarks, President Bush said: “India and the United States are working together to safeguard people of the two nations. We are charting new steps in our advanced relationships to the recently signed new framework that will help our two nations work towards common security objectives. We are working together on counter-terrorism to help protect our people and make the world a safe place. We are also committed to increasing prosperity of the people of India and America alike.

“Today we announce the completion of the next steps in strategic partnership. Building this partnership will help us further enhance our cooperation in the areas of nuclear, civil space and high technology commerce”, President Bush added.