New Delhi: Armed with a permit for global nuclear trade, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves next week for the US and France hoping to seal atomic energy deals and discuss cooperation in defence and counter-terrorism.
Singh will fly out on Monday for what will be India’s first top-level diplomatic engagement since a global nuclear cartel allowed it access to nuclear fuel and technology, overturning a 34-year-long ban for testing nuclear devices.
Singh is also expected to use the visit to review with US President George W. Bush the progress of an India-US nuclear deal awaiting approval by the US Congress, where it faces significant opposition from the non-proliferation lobby. There has been talk that the deal could be ratified by Congress and ready for signing before Singh ends his US visit, but Indian officials and analysts remain cautious in their optimism.
“No one knows for sure when it will be ready,” Naresh Chandra, former Indian ambassador to US, said of the deal, seen as a cornerstone of India’s growing ties with the West.
Moving ahead: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI
“It is now a creature of circumstances and subject to the ebb and flow of Congressional opinion.”
At present, just 3% of India’s total power requirement is generated by nuclear plants, a proportion New Delhi aims to increase to around 25% by 2050, taking billions of dollars in investment. Besides the nuclear deal, Singh will hold talks on issues ranging from defence to terrorism and the global financial crisis. He will also address the UN General Assembly and could hold bilateral meetings with other heads of state, including a likely meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.
In France, Singh will meet French President Nicholas Sarkozy and is expected to sign a nuclear pact under which India could obtain, subject to fulfilling international safeguards, nuclear fuel from France for reactors purchased from it.
“The PM’s France visit will be about posturing as well, telling the Americans...look, we have other options if you don’t clear the deal,” columnist Kuldip Nayar said.