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N-deal, Kudankulam project figure in Indo-Russian talks

October 24, 2007 21:45 IST

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday held a bilateral meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, more than a week after his visit to Moscow where the two could not meet, triggering reports of a rebuff to the Indian leader.

The meeting, on the sidelines of a trilateral meeting the Chinese foreign minister in the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, discussed the upcoming visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia next month and the latest situation on the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal.

"The two leaders dwelt a little bit on various elements of the bilateral relationship as we work towards the summit-level meeting," Additional Secretary in the External Affairs Ministry, Jaimani Bhagawati, said while briefing media persons on Mukherjee's meeting with Lavrov.

Lavrov requested Mukherjee for a briefing on the latest state of the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal and he was informed about it, Bhagwati said.

The two sides discussed the Kudankulam nuclear power project being built with Russian assistance and how the two sides could make progress in the sector.

India-Russia relations have been always good and whenever Indian Ministers of External Affairs and Defence have visited Moscow they had meetings with the Russian President.

But this time when Mukherjee went to Moscow he did not meet either his counterpart or President Putin, which raised eyebrows. Defence Minister A K Antony also returned last week from Moscow without a meeting with Putin.

Sources described the recent spate of reports that Mukherjee was rebuffed by Moscow as 'unnecessary speculation.'  
"There was so much unnecessary speculation. We all knew that the three of Foreign Ministers of India, China and Russia are coming to Harbin and we would meet here," the sources said.

The Indian government, however, suggested that the meetings could not take place because of schedule constrains of Russian leaders.

In Wednesday's bilateral meeting, the two sides discussed energy cooperation, including nuclear power and hydrocarbons and stressed the need to find a 'natural complementarity' of a major oil exporter and a country, which is a major importer of hydrocarbons.

Bhagwati said India was willing to offer 'sustainable' price to Russia for oil imports from the resource-rich country. "We are very open to the idea to provide sustainable prices in terms of imports over a long period of time. So we are looking for complementarity," he said.

He said the prime minister is scheduled to travel to Moscow in the second week of November, a visit that should have taken place in December but has been advanced in view of the elections to the Russian Duma in December.

Mukherjee and Lavrov also held discussions on the neighbourhood, including the situation in Afghanistan and Myanmar.
Anil K Joseph in Harbin
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