India, Britain Likely to Sign Civil Nuclear Deal

By Devirupa Mitra

New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) India and Britain are likely to sign a civil nuclear agreement during British Business Minister Peter Mandelson's six-day visit that starts Friday.

The Department of Atomic Energy had written a cabinet note on the subject, after it was informed by the Prime Minister's Office that the text of the agreement had been finalised about a month ago, said official sources.

The negotiations from the Indian side had been conducted by the National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.

Peter Mandelson, the number two in the British government and Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, arrives in Bangalore Friday on a six-day, two-city visit to India. He will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior Indian ministers after he reaches Delhi Saturday.

The agreement is to be in the form of a declaration of intent between the two countries.

If the deal is signed during this visit, it will be the seventh civil nuclear agreement inked by India since its first historic deal with the US in October 2008. Since then, it has signed deals for cooperation in the civil nuclear field with France, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia.

India has already finalised a civil nuclear cooperation deal with Canada, which is expected to be signed next year.

Britain had been one of the firm supporters of India's re-entry into the international nuclear trade after the 2005 India-US joint statement.

Officials said that one of the contentions during the negotiations had been in the preamble of the draft, where India objected to the words proposed by Britain referring to its position on a fissile material cut-off treaty. India has insisted that the agreement should reflect its official position, which calls for a "universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable" treaty.

Officials said that they would have liked the agreement to be signed in the presence of the Indian and British prime ministers as such a high-level visit is not likely in the next few months.

Since British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited India in January 2008, it is Manmohan Singh's turn now to plan a trip to London.

"But, we have been told that there are no dates free before February. After that, the UK government will get busy with preparations for parliamentary election," said a senior government official.

During Peter Mandelson's last visit to India in January earlier this year, he had been accompanied by a large delegation of the British nuclear industry.

The British nuclear industry reportedly exports nuclear goods and equipment worth over 700 million pounds and can supply almost 70-80 percent of a new nuclear reactor.


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