Clearance from the Nuclear Suppliers Group to begin civilian nuclear commerce with India does not look "imminent" just yet, but Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is "prepared to be surprised." And while Sweden, a member of the NSG, is increasingly intent on "broadening and deepening" its overall relationship with India, the focus of this visit is defence collaboration.
"There are some interesting items coming up on the menu of defence procurement (in India)," he said. The Indian Army requires howitzers and the Air Force is shopping for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. "That ghost (of Bofors) is dead, I would hope," said Bildt, "so Sweden is keen to offer its howitzers and Gripen aircraft for India’s consideration, and will sign a memorandum of understanding to widen defence cooperation with India."
Bildt, who met Defence Minister AK Antony on Thursday, said the decision was for the Indian Armed Forces to take.
In an exclusive interview to the Hindustan Times on Friday, Bildt, 58, who was Sweden’s Prime Minister between 1991 and 1994 and took over as the Foreign Minister in October 2006, said his visit was part of his country’s increasing focus on Asia.
Asked why Sweden was perceived as moralistic in its opposition to India gaining access to advanced nuclear technology at the NSG, Bildt said "I would not call our stand moralistic." Sweden has been among the most vocal opponents of change to the international non-proliferation regime.
"We don’t see India in any sort of way as a proliferator," he said. "And India is a priority focus area for us in Asia. We have much more in common with India (than China); democratic societies, rule of law; we share democratic values." "It is the single most important factor that can translate into many more things. The potential for a deeper relationship is much bigger with India."
Bildt, who met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier on Friday, said they discussed Iran at some length.
"India plays an important role as it has good relations with Iran," said Bildt, and "the regime there is not easy to understand."
Asked about Sweden’s concerns on proliferation and how soon after the 123 Agreement enabling civil nuclear commerce between India and the United States the NSG waiver would take, Bildt said, "we are increasingly concerned about proliferation; North Korea, what the Iranians are doing and the possibility of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, we recognize that nuclear energy is part of the answer to some questions that are there, if you talk of issues like climate change," he said.
"We’ll have to look at the 123 Agreement. We’ll have to look at the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Agreement, when it comes," Bildt said. "We’ll have to look at it in totality. We are positive about it, but it doesn’t look imminent just yet. But I’m prepared to be surprised, yes. I hope it will be possible to meet those concerns."
"We have an understanding for the need of India to develop nuclear energy," Bildt said, "and we are basically supportive of the strategic shift in relations between India and the United States. The deal on nuclear energy is part of it, but we see a lot more happening between New Delhi and Washington, as we see happening between Delhi and Brussels," (HQ of the European Union. "That is part of the shift in global politics that is positive.")
"There’s a lot we can do to help develop energy – efficient technologies with India."
Asked about Sweden’s position on a permanent seat for India at the United Nations Security Council, Bildt said his country was supportive.
"In principle, yes. Although we don’t know how its going to shape up. We aren’t there yet. The Security Council is reflective of the world order of 1945."