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Japan seeks time on India's N-issue

Tokyo says it will wait for India to complete negotiations with IAEA. In pics: Manmohan Singh's Japan visit

india Updated: Dec 15, 2006 16:57 IST

Reflecting strong national feelings, Japan on Friday said it will wait for India to complete negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before taking a stand on backing civil nuclear cooperation with New Delhi at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

"We want to see how IAEA's negotiations with India (on a safeguards agreement) take shape before taking a position on this issue," a top Japanese official who did not wish to be named said, hours before talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

Japan, however, indicated that it would be open to the idea of civil nuclear cooperation with India, but only after it was satisfied New Delhi had concluded its negotiations with the IAEA in a "bonafide manner".

"The Japanese position is under discussion. We have not reached any definite conclusion," he stressed, rebutting reports that Japan was thinking of acquiring nuclear weapons following the Oct 9 North Korea nuclear test.

In his address on Thursday to Diet, the Japanese parliament, Manmohan Singh sought Tokyo's support for "innovative and forward looking approach" in the global community over civil nuclear cooperation with India.

Japan, a fiercely pacifist nation that abides by three non-nuclear principles of no possession, no production and no presence of nuclear weapons on its soil, is the first NSG country Manmohan Singh is visiting after the US Congress enacted a landmark legislation approving civil nuclear cooperation with India.

Stressing Japan's special sensitivities on the nuclear issue, the official said it would need "some more time" to make up its mind on supporting India at the 45-nation NSG.

"Japan also needs to engage in discussions at NSG where it will voice its opinion," he said, hinting that New Delhi needed to have patience if it desired Tokyo's support. He, however, acknowledged India's need for energy security and its desire to utilise nuclear energy in a peaceful manner.

If Manmohan Singh took up the issue with Abe, Japan's response will be on these lines, he said.

For New Delhi, getting the support of Tokyo, which denounced India's 1998 nuclear tests, at NSG would be a breakthrough. It will have a ripple effect over the India-US nuclear deal in the exclusive nuclear club.

If Japan backs India, it will open the door for civil nuclear cooperation with the world's third largest producer of nuclear electricity.

Japan has some 50 civil nuclear plants that contribute to 40 per cent of its energy needs.

"We continue to have very sensitive emotions on the nuclear issue. It's quite a daunting task for the two countries to have the same perspective on non-proliferation," the Japanese official said.

Japan is the only country that has suffered nuclear bombs and one that has a stringent safeguards agreement with the IAEA, he stressed.

"We have withstood vigorous inspections by IAEA. Again, Japan is the country with which IAEA inspectors have spent most time and effort than anywhere else," he said.

First Published: Dec 15, 2006 01:57 IST