Russia and India lay groundwork for N-pact
* Agreement to allow joint development of weapon systems *
Delhi says Indo-US nuclear deal ‘fully consistent’ with country’s interestsNEW DELHI: Russia and India were on Monday laying the groundwork for the signing of a civil nuclear energy deal, following New Delhi’s signing of similar pacts with Washington and Paris, officials said.Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in India for talks with his counterpart Pranab Mukherjee as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ahead of an expected visit to New Delhi in December by President Dmitry Medvedev. An Indian foreign ministry official said the two former Cold War allies were expected to sign an atomic energy deal when Medvedev makes his first visit on December 5. The pact, agreed on during a visit by former Russian president Vladimir Putin in January 2007, envisages Russia building four reactors in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. India is now allowed to shop for technology and nuclear reactors after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted its ban on New Delhi in early September following hard lobbying by Washington. India has a nuclear market estimated at $142 billion over 15 years.India and Russia are also looking at a pact allowing joint development of weapon systems, officials said. 70 percent of Indian military equipment is of Russian origin, but late deliveries and commercial disagreements have pushed New Delhi towards other suppliers, including the US, France, Britain and Israel.Indo-US N-deal: Insisting that the civil nuclear agreement with the US is “fully consistent” with India’s interests, Government today said the pact has “interlocking provisions” which ensure uninterrupted fuel supplies and right to reprocess besides “corrective measures” if warranted.Making a statement in the Lok Sabha, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said India will undertake the civil nuclear cooperation with the US and any other country on the basis of bilateral agreements only and that the government has “no doubt” that Washington will fulfil its “commitments and obligations” specified in the agreement.He also underlined that the nuclear deal with the US, France or the Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA entail no hindrance to India’s strategic programme and “we retain the freedom to take action with regard to our strategic programme even as we engage in international cooperation in civil nuclear energy.” Mukherjee made the statement on the developments related to ‘India’s civil nuclear energy initiative’ even as CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia raised the issue of alleged breach of privilege by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.Seeking to allay concerns, including whether India would be able to maintain the independence of its foreign policy, Mukherjee said “our foreign policy will be determined at all times by our own assessment of our national interest.” He insisted that “this initiative in no way constrains our ability to pursue an independent foreign policy. It does not in any way affect our strategic autonomy. In fact, it does the opposite by increasing our foreign policy options.
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