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Tokyo wary of nuke deal

Tokyo, Dec. 15: If India had expected Japan to come up with a clear, unambiguous endorsement of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal during Manmohan Singh’s visit here, it had reasons to be disappointed, at least for the moment.

Japan will wait and watch India’s negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before finalising its position at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

Even as it appreciates India’s need for nuclear energy, Japan will like India to “respond to the concerns of the international community” over the former’s civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the US, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said today.

During his summit meeting with Abe here this afternoon, Singh explained to him that nuclear energy was a “must” for India as its economy grew and that IAEA safeguards would be followed.

Abe’s response, as reflected in the joint statement and in his answer to a question at a news conference, was mixed and noncommittal.

“Japan has been the only victim of atomic bombs and we do have our sensitivities,” he said.

The Indo-US deal and the question of IAEA safeguards would be discussed at the NSG and other fora as well as at the bilateral level between India and Japan before the latter formulates its position.

The joint statement, though, mentioned the two countries’ shared view that nuclear energy can provide a “safe, sustainable and non-polluting source”. It also spoke of the need for enhancing the “international civil nuclear energy co-operation under appropriate IAEA safeguards”.

But Abe’s remarks suggested Tokyo’s response to the India-US deal was still being debated in official and political circles here.

Indian officials, however, said it would be wrong to interpret the remarks as Japan’s disapproval. “Until recently, the very idea would have been totally unacceptable to them. The ambivalence in the Japanese response proves that they too are having a rethink,” said an Indian source.

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