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PM, Putin have a ‘meeting of minds’

world Updated: Nov 13, 2007 02:21 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ended his summit-level talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday with four new agreements and the promise that his discussions with the hosts have “consolidated and strengthened” bilateral strategic engagements.

The meeting between the two leaders was their longest in recent years, lasting a good two hours. An official present at the discussions termed the exchange “superb”. “It was a real meeting of minds on how to carry ties forward,” said Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon. He assisted Singh in the talks along with National Security Advisor MK Narayanan.

The two sides covered a host of issues — defence, atomic energy, space and international and regional issues such as Iran and the situation in Pakistan.

Later, at a joint press conference with Putin, the Prime Minister restricted himself to answering a query by saying work on the inter-governmental agreements for the supply of four additional reactors, which Russia had promised in January, is in progress. He said he looked forward to expanded cooperation in civilian nuclear energy between the two countries.

As the supply of reactors depended on India crossing the International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Suppliers Group stages, Singh said it was a subject of discussion between the government and its allies. “The process of evolving a national consensus is still on,” he said.

The PM thanked Putin for Russia’s steadfast support in supplementing India’s nuclear energy programme — by the supply of fuel to Tarapore and two reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu — and its assistance in lifting international restrictions on nuclear cooperation with India that are still in place. Singh’s allusion ostensibly was to Moscow’s support of New Delhi in the NSG, whose waiver it needs to partake of nuclear commerce.

In the same context, Putin remarked that India knew that Russia was a reliable partner.

The agreements signed in the presence of Singh and Putin after restricted one-on-one talks and delegation-level discussions included one for a joint mission to the moon in 2011. Named Chandrayaan II, it involves an orbiter, a lander and a rover to carry out scientific studies. This will be in addition to the youth satellite the two sides expect to launch next year.

“This visit has seen a huge impetus on space cooperation,” Menon told mediapersons. He said India would be an equal partner in the development of technology for Chandrayaan II.

On the nuclear reactors, the Foreign Secretary said Russia has always been a reliable supplier. “We have always relied on them and will broaden the cooperation when we can.”

Besides cooperation in space and defence, including the development and production of multi-role transport aircraft, the two sides accorded “high priority” to trade and investment, which has “lagged far behind our excellent political understanding and joint commitment to strategic partnership”.

Singh told a meeting of Indian and Russian businessmen later that he and President Putin wished to see bilateral economic engagement expand to become a major pillar of the eight-year-old strategic partnership. Pointing out that Russia’s trade with China and the European Union stands at $35 billion and 200 billion euros respectively, he said: “I see no reason why India-Russia trade should languish at $4 billion.”

To enhance bilateral trade volume to $10 billion by 2010, India has approved the report of the Joint Study Group set up during the PM’s last visit to Moscow. A Joint Task Force will now be formed to implement the study group’s recommendations.

During his time in Moscow, Singh showcased India as a major investment destination with an infrastructure requirement of a staggering $450 billion over the next five years. “"There is no substitute for a vigorous two-way engagement between the two business communities,” he said.