On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, India let it be known that it did not expect “old friend” Russia to defy the international order to supply it with the four nuclear reactors for which a memorandum of intent is already in place.
Recalling the supply of fuel by Moscow for Tarapore and the two nuclear reactors under construction at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said the 8th Summit under the bilateral strategic partnership would afford an opportunity for talks on elevating the MoI, signed during Putin’s January visit, to an inter-governmental agreement on the reactors on offer. The PM’s delegation significantly includes Dr Anil Kakodkar, secretary, Department of Atomic Energy, and Dr G. Madhavan Nair, secretary, Department of Space.
However, Menon avoided taking head-on the question of whether the Putin regime would bypass Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines to help India out. “We are sure Russia will help us secure a clean exemption from the NSG,” he said.
Menon, interacting with mediapersons on board the PM’s Special Aircraft en route to Moscow along with National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan, took questions on a range of issues — civil nuclear cooperation with Russia, the situation in Pakistan and its implications for India’s security. He said the 1988-89 Soviet era “grandfather” agreement the Russians invoked to set up two reactors at Kudankulam did not provide for the additional four for which there was an expression of intent in January. The burden of his argument was that India had to go through the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards agreement and NSG waiver to obtain the additional reactors.
It was obvious the government is not contemplating such avenues of nuclear cooperation with Russia that could jeopardize the India-US deal for reasons other than the domestic logjam with the Left. Briefly though, Narayanan spoke about the UPA’s latest offer to the communists for their support for opening talks with the IAEA — that New Delhi will not sign the agreement with the nuclear watchdog without their approval of the agreed text.
The two officials were also at pains to dispel reports of a chill in Indo-Russian ties. “Moscow is one of our most strategic partners… There is no chill. The ties are so warm, almost hot,” said Narayanan. Menon recalled being present at a recent meeting in China between External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and said: “I know the quality of talks. The reports of a chill do not reflect the reality we know.”
On Pakistan, Narayanan expressed concern over the situation there and its implications for Indian security. “We have tightened vigil on our borders but the possibility of increased infiltration looms large in our perception.” He hinted that troop withdrawal, routine in winters in Jammu and Kashmir, might be put on hold on account of an increase in militancy there in recent weeks.
Hoping the transition to democracy in Pakistan would be peaceful, Menon said it was for the people of Pakistan to decide the way their country is run.