New Delhi: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged India on Tuesday to amend a law that has put off US companies from participating in the $150 billion nuclear energy market over liability concerns in case of accidents.
Clinton opened high-level US-Indian talks with a polite but firm push for New Delhi to get moving on key economic issues as both sides seek to firm up a relationship that thus far has promised more than it has delivered.
The United States want India to “tighten up” legislation to protect equipment makers from liability in case of nuclear accidents, saying it is much more stringent than comparable laws in other countries. India is planning to spend some $150 billion on nuclear power, key to meet soaring energy demand.
“We need to resolve those issues that still remain so that we can reap the rewards of the extraordinary work that both of our governments have done,” Clinton said during a news conference with Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna.
Nuclear energy companies such as General Electric and Westinghouse, the US-based arm of Japan’s Toshiba Corp , want to play a role in expanding India’s nuclear energy market.
Clinton’s visit covers a range of bilateral issues including counter-terrorism cooperation, an issue thrown into stark relief by last week’s deadly triple bomb attack on India’s financial capital Mumbai.
Relations between the two countries have warmed since the end of the Cold War, when India was seen as closer to the old Soviet Union.
Clinton briefed Indian leaders on US plans to draw down troops in Afghanistan—which New Delhi fears may mean a hasty US exit—as well as on India’s nuclear-armed rival Pakistan, where the halting battle against Islamic militants has spurred questions about Islamabad’s true intentions.
US officials say they are generally pleased with growing levels of security cooperation with India, which range from intelligence sharing on terror networks to joint efforts against maritime piracy.
But India has long been unhappy about what it perceives as Washington’s resistance to sharing critical, real-time information on Islamic militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan that may be plotting to attack Indian targets.
Clinton said she welcomed the dialogue between India and Pakistan, resumed earlier this year after they were frozen in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, which killed 166 people in 2008 and blamed on Pakistani-based militants.
The Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers are due to meet in New Delhi later this month to push peace efforts forward, key to stabilising the region, especially as the United States starts to draw down troops from Afghanistan.
Clinton again urged Pakistan to do more to tackle terror groups operating from its country.
Clinton will also meet finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, and is expected to press him on promises to open domestic financial and insurance markets, as well as to permit “big box” retail operations which could open the country further to US sales giants such as Wal-mart .
She made clear that arms sales, too, are part of the equation, saying India, seen as one of the world’s biggest defence buyers in coming years, could further improve US military cooperation by buying more US weaponry.