New Delhi, March 15: President George W. Bush was aware of Russian plans to supply nuclear fuel for the Tarapur atomic power plant before his visit to India.
Moscow informed Bush and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) almost simultaneously in February that it had taken this decision under the “safety exception clause”.
The Russian decision did not follow but preceded the Bush visit, sources said.
Reports that Russia will supply fuel have come out on the eve of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov’s visit to India.
The Americans have reacted by saying such a step should be taken after Delhi fulfilled its obligations under the Indo-US nuclear pact concluded during Bush’s visit.
But the Russians began fabrication of the low-enriched uranium fuel for Tarapur in December 2005 ' nearly three months before the Bush visit. This is evidence enough that the decision had little to do with India’s civilian and military nuclear separation plan presented to the US.
The Russian fuel is expected to reach in two consignments by air, with the first lot arriving any time now.
The Russian decision, according to the sources, was meant to demonstrate Moscow’s “real political commitment” to a strategic partnership with India.
Even now the consortium of nuclear fuel and technology suppliers, the NSG, has not ratified the Indo-US nuclear deal. Nor has the US Congress.
Russia, therefore, is not acting on a “go-ahead” from any external source. The talks with Moscow on fuel for Tarapur began last year when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went there on May 9.
President Vladimir Putin, the sources added, responded positively to the Indian request, but did not make a commitment. The deal was sewn up during the summit between Singh and Putin in December 2005.
Although the high-point of the visit, the decision was kept secret. Even now the Russian decision was leaked by the US state department before New Delhi confirmed it.
The Russians had insisted in their meetings with Singh in May 2005 that it would become easier for them to supply Tarapur fuel after India passed the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery System (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Act. The act was passed by May 13. It seeks to prevent transfer of weapons of mass destruction and their technology.
The India-US joint statement of July 18, 2005 initially put a brake on the Russian decision on Tarapur fuel. The Russian foreign office wanted to wait till the India-US agreement went through.
In November 2005, after several high-level visits from India, Moscow indicated it would prefer to take the decision in May 2006 after the NSG meeting.
Last December, Singh took along with him Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, to Moscow. Kakodkar held separate meetings with the Russian atomic energy chief in which he impressed upon him the need to get the fuel by March to ensure reliable and safe operations at Tarapur.
Around the same time, the Russian political assessment changed. Moscow believed that after the Indo-US July 18 statement, where the road map was laid for the nuclear agreement, Washington was unlikely to react negatively.