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France deal tied to US

New Delhi, Feb. 20: India today signed a declaration with France setting out the parameters of an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, which will, however, be possible only after Delhi concludes such a pact with the US.

The declaration covers the entire range of civilian cooperation, starting from basic and applied research to the setting up of nuclear power plants.

It is very similar to the document signed between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush on July 18, 2005, in that it is only a statement of intent that will become reality once India meets conditions to the satisfaction of the US, which will then offer civilian nuclear cooperation.

Although the Indo-French declaration on paper stipulates India has to persuade the 43-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to lift nuclear trade restrictions before it can implement the agreement with Paris, essentially this means satisfying the Americans.

The deal with the US deal has got sucked into controversy with the scientific establishment raising objections to the proposed separation of civilian and strategic facilities that is the cornerstone of the agreement. The next step is for the civilian facilities to be thrown open to international monitoring.

Scientists fear such a move will be detrimental to the country’s strategic nuclear programme. Anil Kakodkar, the Atomic Energy Commission chairman who has been outspoken about this, today signed the declaration on behalf of the Indian government with French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

Sources were not prepared to read too much into his signing the declaration, but it is hard to miss the symbolism. In effect, Kakodkar is agreeing to a declaration that is dependent on the successful conclusion of the Indo-US deal.

After the signing, the Prime Minister announced India’s readiness to place all future nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. He iterated India’s commitment to honouring in “letter and spirit” the Indo-US nuclear deal.

French President Jacques Chirac said India must be allowed to achieve economic growth and it should be done in an environment-friendly manner.

The declaration keeps one aspect of cooperation out of its purview ' “supply of uranium enriched to 20 per cent or greater in the isotope U235”, which can be used in nuclear submarines or weapons.

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