Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 13:06 UK

India eyes France nuclear accord

Manmohan Singh
PM Manmohan Singh has described the nuclear deal as "momentous"

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in France where he will discuss boosting civilian nuclear trade.

Mr Singh meets President Sarkozy in Paris on Tuesday and says they could sign a nuclear co-operation agreement.

The trip comes after the US House of Representatives voted in favour of a landmark India-US nuclear accord.

Earlier this month, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) lifted a ban that had denied India access to the international nuclear market.

'New status'

India says the agreement with the US is vital for it to meet its growing energy demands. Critics say it creates a dangerous precedent.

They say the deal allows India to expand its nuclear power industry without requiring it to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as other nations must.

Under the terms of the deal, India would get access to US civilian nuclear technology and fuel.

In return, Delhi would open its civilian nuclear facilities to inspection - but its nuclear weapons sites would remain off-limits.

Mr Singh has said India is close to securing a "new status" in the world nuclear order.

The Framework Agreement for Civil Nuclear Co-operation was agreed with France in January.

Reports say the deal includes providing India with France's latest model of the European Pressurised Reactor as well as other civilian nuclear material.

"We have already initialled the framework agreement in civil nuclear matters. It will certainly come up for review and possible signature during my visit," Mr Singh told reporters on Sunday.

He and Mr Sarkozy are in the southern French city of Marseille for a European Union-India summit. The meeting is focusing on bilateral trade and the global financial crisis.

Race against time

The US House of Representatives passed the agreement by 298-117 votes late on Saturday. The agreement now goes to the Senate for final approval, before President George W Bush can sign it into law.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is a Democrat and supports the bill, promised a vote this week, possibly on Monday.

Mr Bush urged the Senate to "quickly" vote on the deal before it adjourns. "Signing this bipartisan bill will help strengthen our partnership with India," he said in a statement.

"I am happy that one hurdle has been crossed, but it is not the end of the Congressional process and we need to wait for the final outcome," Manmohan Singh told reporters.

"India will be liberated from the constraints of technology denial of 34 years," Mr Singh was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office.

"The civilian nuclear co-operation is in the interest of India, in the interest of the US and in the interest of the world at large."

Correspondents say President Bush faces a race against time to sign the deal into law before he leaves office in January.

It was first agreed three years ago and is regarded as a key foreign policy priority for both the Indian and US governments.

The US restricted nuclear co-operation with India after it tested a nuclear weapon in 1974.

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