Barely three days after India said it would wait for the US Congress to ratify the 123 Agreement before signing deals with countries such as France and Russia for the purchase of nuclear reactors and fuel, New Delhi seems to have had a rethink.
This came at a time when President George W Bush sent the India-US nuclear agreement to the US Congress for final approval on Wednesday night.
Bush said it would promote common defence and bolster international non-proliferation efforts.
In New Delhi, an external affairs ministry spokesperson said on Thursday that the Manmohan Singh “government is also moving towards finalising bilateral agreements with other friendly partner countries such as France and Russia”.
“Government is taking steps to realise commercial cooperation with foreign partners in this field,” the spokesperson said.
Even though it has no constraints in pushing ahead with agreements to purchase nuclear material from France and Russia, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had on Monday said India would wait for ratification of the 123 Agreement by the US Congress.
Thursday’s statement by the foreign office suggests that India remains in close touch with France and Russia and could be close to finalising bilateral agreements with them.
The ministry also pointed out that while actual cooperation would commence after bilateral agreements, such as the 123 agreement, come into force, “the Nuclear Power Corporation of India has already commenced preliminary dialogue with US firms in this regard.”
In Washington, Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat from Nevada) told HT on Thursday, Reid would “try to see if there is a way to get it (ratification of the nuclear deal) done.”
The White House said in a statement, “The proposed agreement provides a comprehensive framework for US (to engage in) peaceful nuclear cooperation with India.”
The 40-year agreement has a provision for extensions. Either side can end the agreement “on one year’s written notice.”
The agreement enjoys broad support in the US Congress. The problem is the schedule. The current session is to end on September 26 but the rules require that the agreement remain with the Congress for 30 days. The Congress can waive the rule, but not all members are ready to rush their approval.