India set to sign nuclear deals with France, Russia

New Delhi: France could become the first country to conduct nuclear commerce with India under recently relaxed international norms. Both countries are likely to sign a previously initialed text for bilateral civil nuclear cooperation on 30 September during Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Paris, according to media reports emerging in the country's capital.

If it so transpires, then India may become a customer for French nuclear technology and fuel even before the United States Congress ratifies the Indo-US nuclear deal. The Indo-US deal has been responsible for India's recent emancipation from international shackles imposed on it for trade and commerce in nuclear fuel and technology in 1974, and assurances have been provided by the Indian government that it would await ratification by the US before signing deals with other countries in order that American companies were not disadvantaged.

Breathing down the neck of the French will be the Russians with a joint agreement to buy reactors and fuel due to be finalised during the New Delhi visit of president Dimitry Medvedev in December this year. This last has been confirmed by a statement made by Russian Ambassador to India, Vyacheslav Trubnikov over the weekend.

After a close vote in Vienna early on this month when the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a 45-member nation cartel that controls commerce in nuclear fuel and technologies around the world, nearly blocked the exemption sought by India to be free of impositions, a rattled New Delhi may now be unsure as to the how the deal will pan out in the US Congress, where it has to pass numerous hurdles.

With reports emerging  that some senior Democratic Party members have questioned the wisdom of hurrying the deal through the Congress and a communication to the US Congress by president George W Bush suggesting that Washington had made no legally binding commitments on the supply of nuclear fuel to India, New Delhi may be looking to hedge its bets.

The Indian prime minister is due to visit Washington on 25 September when both governments hope to sign the agreement, provided it has been approved by the US Congress by then.