05 December 2005

Fuel for Tarapur not related to nuclear deal with the U.S., says Manmohan Singh

Dateline Moscow: Here's yet another instance of the U.S. trying to push the envelope on the July 18 nuclear deal. The American commitment to secure LEU for Tarapur was not linked to the timetable or conditionalities of the wider commitments each side undertook to pave the way for full-scale civil nuclear cooperation. Yet, Washington now wants India to implement its commitments before securing fuel for its safeguarded reactors at Tarapur.

5 December 2005
The Hindu

Fuel for Tarapur not related to nuclear deal with the U.S., says Manmohan Singh

Siddharth Varadarajan

  • India to seek a Russian commitment for the supply of low-enriched uranium to nuclear reactors
  • Prime Minister's comments stem from text of July 18 agreement
  • Early indications from the Russian side positive

On board PM's aircraft: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday that the question of supply of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for the Tarapur nuclear reactors was "separate" from the timetable and conditions under which the July 18 Indo-U.S. nuclear deal was to be implemented. Accordingly, India fully intended to seek a Russian commitment for the supply of the vital fuel. "The fuel for Tarapur is a separate question, it is not related to the nuclear deal," Dr. Singh told reporters accompanying him on his visit to Moscow. "Issues relating to energy security will figure in my discussions [with President Putin] and it is quite possible that we may touch upon [LEU for Tarapur] as well."

Concrete talks expected

Dr. Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, is accompanying the Prime Minister and is expected to have concrete talks with his Russian counterparts on the fuel supply issue.

According to senior officials, the Prime Minister's comments on the Tarapur issue being distinct from the overall Indo-U.S. nuclear framework sprang directly from the text of the July 18 agreement. An official said: "The agreement is clear: `In the meantime, the United States will encourage its partners to also consider this request (of fuel supplies for safeguarded reactors at Tarapur) expeditiously.' This means the supply of LEU is not linked to the implementation of other commitments like separation of civil and military facilities."

The official acknowledged that the U.S. side disagreed with this interpretation of the language by the Indian side and had suggested that an LEU agreement reached outside the conditionalities of the July 18 agreement would make passage of the requisite legislative changes by Congress difficult.

However, senior officials said early indications from the Russian side were positive and that even if the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal were to hit a major implementation roadblock, Moscow was leaning towards providing LEU for Tarapur under the "safety" clause of its amended domestic nuclear legislation. "But these things are being negotiated. After all, the Russians are also looking for something, maybe a commitment that India will buy equipment from them as and when nuclear commerce opens up."

Scope for expansion

The Prime Minister, however, refused to strike a bearish tone on the Indo-U.S. nuclear agreement. Asked whether India was counting on Russian support in the event that the July 18 deal hit a roadblock, Dr. Singh said, "We will cross that bridge when we reach there ... We have appointed working groups on both sides [to implement the agreement], they are busy working out the details, and therefore, I am hopeful that things will work out the way we wanted them to work out." But he added that cooperation with Russia in nuclear energy "has already come to stay." "The Kudankulam project is being built with Russian help, so cooperation in the field of nuclear energy is ongoing ... and there is certainly scope for expansion in years to come."
Dr. Singh denied that the November 2 Senate testimony of two senior U.S. officials — that India was not entitled to sign a similar safeguards agreement with the IAEA as Washington had — contradicted his own statement made to Parliament on July 29 that India would not accept any discrimination in nuclear arrangements. "I wouldn't like to go into the details of what an individual in a particular situation may have said. I stand by what I said in Parliament," the Prime Minister said. "Whatever we do with the United States would be consistent with the statement made in Parliament."

Asked about the recent proposal for an Asian gas grid connecting Central Asia, Iran, India, China and Russia — floated at the meeting in New Delhi last week of major North and Central Asian energy producers — the Prime Minister said he had not studied the proposal in detail but believed "regional and multi-regional cooperation" was needed to tackle the problem of energy security. "Therefore, in principal, India would be in favour of all arrangements that would promote cooperation to solve the problem of scare energy resources," he added.
Strategy on Iran

On Iran, Dr. Singh said India's main concern in its discussions with the European Union, Russia and China was to "find a solution to this problem within the framework of the IAEA and not to allow it to go to the U.N. Security Council." He added that he was glad "our strategy as of now seems to be working."

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