India and France not to ink nuke pact
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India and France not to ink nuke pact

The two sides will, however, sign a defence agreement, when President Chirac visits India this month.

india Updated: Feb 13, 2006 15:03 IST

France is more than willing to offer India its expertise in nuclear energy, but a formal civil nuclear cooperation pact may not be signed between the two countries when President Jacques Chirac comes this month.

The two sides will, however, ink a formal defence cooperation pact, which will include cooperation between their armed forces and joint production of military hardware, and announce a deal on launching satellites for third parties.

Paris has also clarified that even if the two sides sign a formal pact on civil nuclear cooperation, its implementation will have to wait for the US and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) to alter their rules for transacting nuclear business in favour of India.

"What we are now looking at is a statement that we have the same approach towards a lot of things, the same objectives and preoccupations and we will cooperate in a number of areas, including the production of nuclear electricity," French Ambassador Dominique Girard told a news agency.

"Of course, a lot of things will remain pending till the time the whole question of India's nuclear status is resolved. It will take effect only when the international situation is sorted out," the envoy said.

"In exchange for this new status, we are trying to institute for India, New Delhi has to undertake certain commitments and make changes in its dispensation," he said, underlining the importance of India's plan to separate its civilian and military facilities.

Till a few weeks ago India and France -- the only country which supported India after its 1998 nuclear tests -- appeared set to sign a nuclear energy pact, but differences over references to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the NSG led both sides to consider a detailed statement for now, diplomatic sources said.

"We don't know what form it will take but it will be somewhat similar to the framework cooperation agreement between the US and India. For us, however, it is much simpler than is the case with the US because it's a much older relationship in the field of nuclear cooperation," Girard said.

"Unlike the US, there is no parliamentary process involved. And in France, people have no problem with nuclear energy. India is very popular and enjoys a good image," he said.

France has considerable expertise with pressurised water reactors and the new European Power Reactors, which could be a big help to India's civil nuclear programme.

Besides, both sides are exploring possibilities for cooperation in uranium enrichment technology, fuel-cycle research and other frontier areas.

Chirac's visit to India -- he flies in New Delhi from Bangkok on February 19 -- will see the two sides making a leap in key areas of space and defence cooperation and a consolidation of their substantial business relationship.

Civil nuclear cooperation is clearly high on the agenda and is evident from the composition of Chirac's delegation, which includes French Atomic Energy Commission chairman Alain Bugat and Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of Avera, a leading French manufacturer of nuclear reactors.

During the visit, the two sides will announce a deal whereby satellites will be jointly built by Indian and French companies for a third party. This will complement the ongoing space cooperation between the two countries on the building and launching of a satellite to study monsoons.

A strong business delegation, representing diverse sectors including civil aviation, agro business, electronics, cement, retail and pharmaceuticals, will accompany Chirac to explore new investment opportunities in India.

"We always knew India was a big power if only because of its history, civilisation and culture. For us it is evident that India has to be in that league. The only novelty is that now economy is also part of that reality," Girard said.

First Published: Feb 13, 2006 09:27 IST