India and US announce nuclear 'breakthrough' after Modi-Obama talks

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 26, 2015 07:11 IST

India and the United States reached an agreement on Sunday to break a deadlock that has been stalling the implementation of a landmark civilian nuclear deal between the world’s two largest democracies.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India was moving towards commercial cooperation on civil nuclear trade with the United States, six years after the two sides signed the deal.

"I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations," Modi said at a joint news conference on the first day of a visit by US President Barack Obama to India to establish an enduring strategic partnership.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh later confirmed that agreement has been reached. “We have broken the logjam of the past few years. We have reached an agreement. The deal is done,” Singh said after extended discussions between Obama and Modi lasting more than three hours.


Modi-Obama resolve issues, announce landmark civil nuclear deal

Foreign ministry officials said the agreement narrowed differences over the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and US demands on tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country, one of the major irritants in bilateral ties.

A joint statement said the two leaders “welcomed the understandings reached on the issues of civil nuclear liability and administrative arrangements for civil nuclear cooperation” and looked forward to US-built reactors contributing to India’s energy security “at the earliest”.[ Read full text of statement (courtesy: MEA website)]

India and the United States signed the civilian nuclear deal in 2008, but differences remained over an Indian nuclear liability law that makes equipment suppliers ultimately responsible for an accident. Countries like France and the US have asked India to follow global norms under which the primary liability lies with the operator.

“Today we achieved a breakthrough understanding on two issues that were holding up our ability to advance our civil nuclear cooperation and we are committed to moving towards full implementation," said Obama at the news conference.

"This is an important step that shows how we can work together to elevate our relationship.”

Since all the nuclear power plants in the country are run by the government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), following international norms will mean the government would have to pay heavy damages in case of an accident.

New Delhi had ruled out changes in its 2010 liability legislation that has choked off American investment, but offered to set up an insurance pool to indemnify companies that build reactors in the country against liability in case of a nuclear accident, as a way around the law.

Under the plan readied by state-run reinsurer GIC Re, insurance would be bought by the companies contracted to build the nuclear reactors who would then recoup the cost by charging more for their services. Alternatively, the NPCIL would take out insurance on behalf of these companies.

It is understood that the deadlock over the nuclear deal was done away with after one-on-one talks between the Modi and Obama over tea.

Both leaders held extensive discussions on enhancing cooperation in crucial areas of defence, trade and commerce and climate change after lunch at Hyderabad House.

After the official discussions followed by lunch, Modi and Obama went for a short stroll in the manicured gardens of there.

A joint press meet: Key outcomes

# After a busy day, Modi and Obama appeared before the press in the afternoon. Obama started his address with a 'namaskar' and stressed trade as well as clean energy. Modi, on his part, termed the ties between the two nations a "natural global partnership". The Indian PM also talked about exploring cooperation in advance defence technologies. Here's the highlights of who said what:

PM Modi

# It is a great pleasure and privilege to welcome back President Obama and the First Lady to India.
# The promise and potential of this relationship has never been in doubt. This is a natural global partnership
# In the past four months, we have got a sense of purpose to move it (civil nuclear deal) forward.
# The civil nuclear agreement was the centerpiece of our transformed relationship.
# Decided to take up growing defense cooperation to a new level.
# Will explore cooperation in advance defence technologies.
# I have asked President Obama to lead in making renewable energy more accessible and affordable to the world.
# Terrorism remains a principal global threat. We agreed that we need a comprehensive global strategy to combat it.
# We will resume our dialogue on bilateral investment treaties.

President Obama

# Namaste, thank you PM Modi for those very generous words.
# Trade between the two countries have increased by some 60%.
# All members of Congress and business members from the US believe strong relationship with India is vital for America’s success.
# Happy that we have agreed to promote clean energy and support climate change.
# We have agreed to deepen our defence and security cooperation.
# Thanked PM for his continued efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon.

Here are the top developments of the day:

# Prime Minister Narendra Modi received Obama at Palam airport with a handshake and a warm hug, setting the tone for the US president's visit. He was accompanied by US ambassador Richard Verma.

# Obama went to ITC Maurya, the hotel where he is staying, straight from the airport. Obama reached Rashtrapati Bhavan around noon for a ceremonial welcome.

# At Rashtrapati Bhavan, Obama was received by President Pranab Mukherjee, who dressed in a black bandgala suit and Modi, who had changed into a light striped black bandgala suit from his morning attire of light cream-coloured kurta pyjama with beige Nehru jacket paired with a red shawl.

# Obama received a ceremonial welcome at the President's House. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley were among the dignitaries present on the occasion.

# "It's a great honour to be back in India," Obama said after the ceremonial welcome where he received a Guard of Honour. "Grateful for the extraordinary hospitality..." he added, in the forecourt of the presidential palace where he was escorted by Wing Commander Puja Thakur.

# Obama was introduced to Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Manohar Parrikar, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Delhi L-G Najeeb Jung.

# From the President's House, Obama reached Rajghat and paid tributes to Mahatma Gandhi in a wreath-laying ceremony. He planted a sapling of Peepal tree, also called the Bodhi tree or the wisdom tree.

# In the visitors' book, Obama wrote, "What Dr Martin Luther King Jr said then remains true today - 'the spirit of Gandhi is very much alive in India today. And it remains a great gift to the world. May we always live in this spirit - of love and peace - among all people and nations'."

US President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Delhi airport on Sunday. (Vipin Kumar/HT Photo)

# Obama met PM Modi for a working lunch at Hyderabad House. The lunch was followed by a 'walk and talk' between the two leaders after which they and officials from both sides will hold meetings.

# Modi and the US President discussed a range of issues including defense and counter-terrorism at Hyderabad House, but officials said efforts to combat climate change will figure prominently in the talks.

# Obama and Modi walked and talked at the lush lawns of Hyderabad House. Modi played a perfect host even and poured Obama a cup of tea. The two leaders enjoyed the beverage under a bright afternoon sun.

# They addressed the media later in the afternoon.

# Highlighting the importance of the visit, foreign ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said earlier in the day, "This is a momentous visit. It is high both in terms of symbolism and substance." He added there was a "reflection of change" in the India-US ties, and the two countries were working to "re-energise this relation".

# Obama is the first serving US president to return to India for a second time, underscoring the growing importance of what he has called one of the "defining partnerships of the 21st century". Obama will also be the first US president to be present at Republic Day parade as a chief guest.

# New Delhi has turned into a virtual fortress for the high-profile visit, with heightened security measures including an extended no-fly zone, to protect the world's most powerful leader. While on-the-ground security has been beefed up with extra police patrols and checks at Delhi Metro stations, snipers have been deployed at more than 70 high-rise buildings around central Delhi.

Mega Monday

On the second day, after attending the colourful Republic Day Parade, Obama will meet the CEOs of some of the top Indian companies with PM Modi. Some agreements between India and American companies are expected to be announced after the meeting in presence of two leaders.

The US delegation, which includes US trade representative Michael Froman, will bring up trade, specifically what Washington sees as impediments posed by Indian rules and practices. India too will bring up its priorities.

Mann Ki Baat

On Tuesday, Obama will join PM Modi on a special edition of the latter's radio programme where listeners have been asked to pre-submit questions by Sunday to the leaders on the programme "Mann Ki Baat".

(With agency inputs)

Video:Obama receives Guard of Honour

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