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SA lends India N-hand

india Updated: Oct 03, 2006 15:07 IST
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Pretoria gets New Delhi’s support for Security Council seat
THE LEADERS of India and South Africa made a strategic trade-off on Monday. India decisively said it would support South Africa's bid to occupy a permanent African seat in a reformed United Nations Security Council, and Pretoria in turn said it would support New Delhi's ambitions on civilian nuclear technology. The two sides also agreed to step up cooperation on fighting terrorism.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and South African President Thabo Mbeki signed the Tshwane Declaration, which commits the two countries to a deeper and strategic relationship, and then addressed a joint news conference. Tshwane is the new but not widely known name for Pretoria, South Africa's capital.

Asked if India was supportive of South Africa's aspiration to be a permanent member of the Security Council, Singh answered unequivocally: "Yes, very much. South Africa, by virtue of its standing, by virtue of its role in Africa and in the international system, is eminently entitled to that place."

On civilian nuclear cooperation, Singh said the two sides discussed cooperation in nuclear power. He said he explained the agreement India had reached with the United States, which is now being debated in the US Congress.

He said once it was passed by the US Congress it would go before the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). "South Africa is a member of the NSG and I expect and hope that when that matter reaches the NSG, South Africa will take a sympathetic view on India's concerns."

The nuclear rapprochement is particularly significant, and Indian officials pronounced themselves pleased at the outcome of the 50-minute talks between the two leaders and their closest aides.

South Africa is the first nation to voluntarily give up its nuclear-weapons programme.  It had six bombs when the then president F.W. de Klerk admitted the existence of the arsenal in 1993. Pretoria then acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

All six bombs were destroyed. South Africa, which controls about a tenth of the world's uranium supplies, is a staunch opponent of proliferation, and its support could be vital at the forum, which includes a more intransigent Australia.

The Declaration stepped very carefully around the precise nature of the next steps on nuclear cooperation. Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and crucially said "nuclear energy could play an important role in ensuring safe, sustainable and non-polluting sources of energy to meet the rising global demands of energy, particularly in developing countries".

They said they support the "inalienable right" of all countries to the "peaceful application of nuclear energy" and concluded that if nations adhered to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rules, civilian nuclear cooperation could be enhanced through "acceptable forward-looking approaches".

Mbeki told the news conference: "We are all awaiting the outcome of the (vote at the) US Congress." He noted that there had been no agreement on the issue at the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) summit in Brasilia last month. "When the matter has to be formally decided, surely it has South Africa's support," he said.

Singh and Mbeki had spent the weekend celebrating the "umbilical cord" of Gandhian values that links their countries. But Monday's talks, which coincided with Mahatma Gandhi's 137th birth anniversary, underlined a new awareness of one another's strategic importance.

A senior Indian official, speaking on condition he not be identified, had told the Hindustan Times earlier that Pretoria's perception of New Delhi's attitude had distinctly warmed after India chose to plump for South Africa as its choice for an African seat on the UN Security Council in preference to the two other candidates, Nigeria and Egypt.

The official also noted that South Africa and India are both Indian Ocean powers with large navies. India accounts for 15 per cent of South Africa's arms exports.

South African officials are also apparently becoming conscious that their country is becoming a favourite rest-and-recreation post for terrorist groups, which might also be setting up sleeper cells in the republic. "South African intelligence will now be keeping a much closer eye on all comings and goings, and share this intelligence with India," the Indian official said.

Mbeki told the news conference, when asked if he thought the war on terrorism was succeeding: "If any act of terrorism occurs, it must mean that the war on terror has not been won. Surely I don't think anybody would say it has been won."
He said it was crucial that information on terrorism was shared. "So it is a partnership so that in the end we empower each other... with regard to intelligence, forewarning, ability to act in particular ways, preferably to stop these acts of terrorism before they are committed."

Trade and business opportunities also formed an important plank of the Declaration. The two countries pledged to treble bilateral trade, which totalled about $4 billion last year, by 2010.

Agreements on cooperation were also signed in health, education and science and technology. A Preferential Trade Agreement is also on the cards. Senior business leaders from the two countries who met in the third India-South Africa CEOs' Forum held separate talks in Pretoria. Ratan Tata, who heads the Indian CEO delegation, is also an adviser to Mbeki. Indian companies are expanding their presence in South Africa, and IT firms have led the way in establishing a foothold in the republic

The prime minister noted that South Africa was India's biggest trading partner in Africa. It was clear that Singh, who turned 74 last week, and Mbeki, 64, had struck a good friendship. Mbeki also displayed a quick wit.

Asked if he and Singh aimed to take the concept of Satyagraha beyond their relationship, he said: "I suspect that India and South Africa have got other ways to make our voices heard. I do not think therefore that it is necessary for the prime minister and I to... run a campaign of civil disobedience in order to get the change in the UN Security Council. We will use other means." More seriously, Mbeki said Satyagraha was attractive because of its inherent principles.

He said it was important to use the centenary of Satyagraha to "try to re-infuse his ideas and vision, that value system". In order to construct a better world, he said, "it must not only mean more houses, or clean water, or jobs, but it also means the soul of the people and Satyagraha, in addition to the actions, contained these values and principles and I think they are critical to the reconstruction of the world".

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