Sep 28, 2013 – First Post
Washington: India and the US have reached the first commercial agreement on civilian nuclear power, five years after a landmark deal between the two countries was clinched.
Addressing a joint media interaction after talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Barack Obama disclosed that the two countries have sealed the agreement.
“We’ve made enormous progress on the issue of civilian nuclear power, and in fact, have been able to achieve just in the last few days an agreement on the first commercial agreement between a US company and India on civilian nuclear power,” Obama said.
India’s nuclear operator NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) and US firm Westinghouse have signed an agreement that will pave the way for setting up an atomic plant in India.
However, there was no word on the tough nuclear liability clause in the Indian laws over which the US firms had strong objections.
There was a major uproar in India last week over the agreement because of apprehensions that it entailed bypassing the Civil Nuclear Liability Law in place in the country by waiving the operator’s right to recourse with the supplier.
Reiterating his commitment for strong ties, Obama said India is not just a regional, but also a global power.
Prime Minister Singh reciprocated the feelings, saying US is as an indispensable partner for India.
“India, as a significant not just regional power but world power, has worked closely with us on a whole range of issues from climate change to how we can help feed the world, alleviate poverty and deal with disease,” Obama told reporters in his Oval Office following their hour-long meeting.
Praising the Prime Minister for his leadership in strengthening India-US ties, Obama said Singh has been a great friend and partner to the United States and to him personally.
“Across the board, Prime Minister Singh has been an outstanding partner,” Obama said, adding that India continues to grow at an amazing rate, but obviously there are a lot of people in India that are still trapped in poverty.
He said US is a strong partner to help India realise that vision because if there is a strong India, that is good for the world and it’s ultimately good for the US.
In his remarks, Singh said Obama has imparted a powerful impetus to that process of the two countries being on the same page.
“I’ve always believed that India and America are indispensable partners. During the time that I have been Prime Minister, and particularly during the time that President Obama and I have worked together, I think President Obama has made an outstanding contribution to strengthening, widening and deepening of our cooperation in diverse ways,” he said.
Singh said India and America are working together to build on the cooperation and widening, and deepening it in diverse directions.
“We are cooperating in expanding the frontiers of trade investment in technology. Our bilateral trade today is USD 100 billion. Investments in India are USD 80 billion. And they are growing, despite the slowdown in the global economy,” Singh said, referring to the increasing trade between the two sides.
“Outside the area of trade technology and investment, we are exploring avenues of cooperation in new areas like energy cooperation, clean coal technology, energy-efficient technology, cooperation in the field of environment, cooperation in the field of defense and security-related, cooperation with regard to the intelligence gathering and counterterrorism. In all these areas, India needs the United States to be standing by our side,” Singh said.
Washington, September 27, 2013
Hours before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh landed in the U.S. to hold what is likely to be his final official meeting with President Barack Obama, a senior administration official said the White House continued to have “specific concerns” regarding India’s nuclear liability law.
In a background call with the media, the official however firmly pushed back on any notion that the bilateral relationship had “plateaued,” arguing that Friday’s Oval Office meeting between the two heads of government would be a “short working visit” that would address a wide range of bilateral issues and set out a roadmap for the path ahead into the 21st century, that would also consider the post-2014-elections scenario in India.
While progress with the landmark civilian nuclear energy agreement slowed after India adopted the nuclear liability law, the signing of a “pre-early-works agreement” between nuclear supplier companies in the U.S. and India’s nuclear operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), appeared imminent on the eve of Mr. Singh’s visit.
However, there does not appear to be any official planned timeframe within which an actual deal could be inked between U.S. nuclear suppliers and the NPCIL, which could lead to the production of safe nuclear energy within the terms of Indian law.
The administration official this week said that in a complex relationship such as the one that existed between New Delhi and Washington, there would always be areas where “room for more progress,” existed, and in this case those areas include concerns that the U.S. government and corporations have regarding certain Indian economic policies.
While the Obama administration has pointed out that “contentious issues” of the past, including nuclear energy, defence, and clean energy cooperation, were now “centre-pieces” of the relationship today, India is also likely to use the occasion of Mr. Singh’s visit to flag its concerns.
Specifically, New Delhi has continued to worry about the potential adverse impact that the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently working its way through the U.S. Congress could have on businesses employing skilled Indian workers.
In this regard, the White House pushed back this week saying that Indian nationals were the largest recipients of H-1B and L1 visas by a wide margin and, contrarily, the legislation under consideration brings significant benefits to Indian nationals.
It would also appear likely that the Indian delegation will push back on the increasingly strident calls by the U.S. for India to fall in line with the Montreal Protocol and scale back Indian companies’ use of refrigerant gases.
Earlier, The Hindu broke the news that if India yielded to the U.S. demand, which officials reportedly said Mr. Obama might personally bring up in his meeting with Mr. Singh, it would have to adopt alternative technologies that were 20 times more costly, mainly proprietary to a few U.S.-based companies, and in some cases “untested for safety.”
Although The Hindu has also broken a series of news items on the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance of Indian establishments, including India’s diplomatic posts in the U.S., neither side appeared to indicate that any further discussion of this matter would take place during Mr. Singh’s visit.
Mr. Singh’s visit to the capital will be relatively short. After meeting Mr. Obama on Friday morning, both leaders will give brief statements to the media but are unlikely to take any questions. Mr. Obama will host a luncheon for Mr. Singh.