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The French Connection: India's nuclear isolation ends

Renu Mittal in Paris | September 30, 2008 20:36 IST

Sarkozy has finally beaten Bush to it. While the final hurdle in the Indo-US nuclear deal has still not been cleared, India and France [Images] moved into a new era when France became the first country with whom India signed a landmark agreement on civil nuclear co-operation.

After the lifting of international restrictions on civil nuclear co-operation with India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, France becomes the first country to tie up the historic agreement which covers the supply of reactors and atomic fuel in the first concrete step to bring India into the nuclear mainstream ending 34 years of nuclear isolation. The crucial NSG waiver had come three weeks ago.

Politically, the fact that France becomes the first country with whom India is set to do nuclear commerce would be an advantage for the Congress party and the United Progressive Alliance government since the Left has raised a huge outcry over penning the nuclear agreement with the USA and becoming a strategic partner of America.

It would give the Congress a fresh talking point to counter the left rhetoric as the left parties have nothing against the deal but only against doing business with the USA. It was on this issue that the Left withdrew support to the UPA government.

The agreement as well as the role played by the French in getting the NSG waiver for India has been the result of growing closeness between India and France with President Sarkozy having come over to New Delhi [Images] in January as the chief guest on January 26. Tuesday was the second bilateral summit between the two countries this year.

The agreement with France not only assures fuel supply to India but also allows the reprocessing of spent fuel under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The Hyde act of the US does not allow reprocessing and is the most important point where the French bill scores over the US.

In the current scenario, the Ayottalahs of non-proliferation are likely to get a major handle with which to beat India with and in the US the broadly liberal dimensions of the French agreement could only harden the stand against India.

It could add fuel to the fire already burning in the hearts of the non-proliferation lobby and add grist to the opinion mills that they were right and now there would be little controls over India. A similar agreement is in the pipeline with Russia [Images].

|The agreement was initialled between Atomic Energy Chairman Dr Anil Kakodkar and the French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in the presence of Prime Minister Singh and President Sarkozy.

The agreement will form the basis of wide ranging bilateral co-operation from basic and applied research to full civil nuclear co-operation including reactors, nuclear fuel supply, nuclear safety, radiation and environment protection and nuclear fuel cycle management.

While the Prime Minister expressed his happiness at the historic agreement being penned, he said a new dimension has been added to India's relations with France. In an interview to French newspaper Le Figaro, the prime minister complimented President Sarkozy for helping India 'a great deal in obtaining the approval of the NSG in order to enable us to develop our civilian nuclear industry'. He said India would now implement full cooperation in this field within the framework of a long-term global agreement.

In a Joint statement issued after the bilateral summit between the two leaders the two sides welcomed the signature of a bilateral agreement for civil nuclear cooperation which will form the basis of long term collaborations.

Speaking to the Indian media after the signing of the agreement, Dr Kakodkar said that Indian electricity requirements are large and this would increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy production which is cleaner energy. He said that to get cheaper electricity they would need to work out a techno-economic configuration which would enable the use of local management.

Kakodkar said that commercial agreements between the two countries will take time as certain processes need to be followed. He said that it is not necessary to amend the Atomic energy act of 1962, and requires some additional licensing procedures.

The atomic pact is one of the three agreements to be signed during Singh's two-day visit to Paris.

The other two relate to social security which will benefit nationals of both countries staying in each others countries on short durations up to five years.

The officials on both sides noted that both the countries share common concerns and objectives in the field of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery including in view of possible linkages to terrorism.

Under the social security agreement to be signed between India and France, workers on short term contract up to five years, do not have to make any social security contribution provided they continue to make social security payments in India and France respectively.

For Indians working in France, these benefits shall be available even when the Indian company sends its employees to the French Republic from a third country.

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