India and the United States on Sunday reached a breakthrough on the stalled civil nuclear pact, with the two countries agreeing on commercial co-operation. US President Barack Obama said a “breakthrough understanding” had been achieved in efforts to free US investment in nuclear energy development in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Obama had assured him of strong US efforts to support India’s full membership to the four international export control regimes at the earliest.
The White House said the understanding on India’s civil nuclear programme resolves US concerns on both tracking and liability.
“In our judgement, the Indians have moved sufficiently on these issues to give us assurances,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
The two countries also decided to discuss the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and further defence co-operation, via co-production and co-development, upgrading domestic defence industry and advanced technologies.
The deal on nuclear co-operation and other areas was clinched between Modi and Obama after discussions, spread over three hours, at the delegation level as well as a tete-a-tete on the lawns of Hyderabad House, reflecting the warm personal chemistry between the two leaders.
The two sides have ironed out differences on the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and Obama is expected to use his executive powers to drop the demand for tracking the whereabouts of nuclear material supplied to India.
To resolve the issue of the Indian nuclear liability law, which holds suppliers liable in case of damage, a fund will be set up by Indian insurers.
The nuclear deal had been stuck with India resisting US’s intrusive “national verification” demands.
India’s membership to the four non-proliferation regimes will open up high technology for the country.
In his opening remarks at the joint media interaction, Modi disclosed that on the nuclear deal the two countries “are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our law, our international obligations and technical and commercial viability.”
Both leaders said they were committed towards deepening relations between the countries and the fact that Obama is the first US President to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations and also the first to visit India twice were signs of the growing ties.
“The civil nuclear agreement was the centrepiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy. In the course of the past four months, we have worked with a sense of purpose to move it forward. I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation…,” Modi said.
Talks on the nuclear deal between India and US first began in 2005 when then US President George W Bush and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced their intention to enter into a nuclear agreement during Singh’s visit to the US. This was followed by the US House of Representatives passing the ‘Henry J Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006,’ in 2006.
The 123 Agreement between India and the US concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy was signed on October 10, 2008. According to the deal, India agreed to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities and to place all its civil nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and, in exchange, the US agreed to work towards full civil nuclear cooperation with India.