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India, Japan agree to speed up N-deal talks

By Shishir Bhate
October 26, 2010 01:07 IST
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India and Japan adopted a mutually acceptable stance, in Tokyo on Monday, to speed up negotiations on a civil nuclear agreement, resolving to bring it to fruition at the earliest.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart, Naoto Kan, had a 45-minute discussion on issues ranging from civil nuclear deal, economic partnership, to rising Chinese influence in the region.

In a joint statement after the discussions, the two leaders had 'affirmed that cooperation in this sector will open up new opportunities for further developing the India-Japan Strategic and Global Partnership.'

The two prime ministers welcomed the commencement of negotiations. They affirmed that cooperation in this sector will open up new opportunities for further developing the India-Japan relations. They encouraged their negotiators to arrive at a mutually satisfactory agreement for civil nuclear cooperation at an early date.

In a statement to media after the talks, Kan said, "We agreed to speed up negotiations for civil nuclear energy cooperation, while seeking India's understanding of our country's sentiment as the only country on the planet to have suffered the horrors of an atomic explosion."

Meanwhile, India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao at a media briefing on Monday in Tokyo said that the next round of talks will be held in Tokyo in the third week of November. Already two rounds of negotiations have been held over the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, the second earlier this month.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said earlier in the day at a business luncheon that he was keenly aware of Japan's sensitivities on nuclear matters and would not force the issue, it caused more than some amount of commotion among the media.

The statement was construed as if India had reconciled to the possibility of the civil nuclear deal between the two nations being delayed indefinitely.

Reacting to media reports, the foreign secretary said that the view that the civil nuclear deal had hit a hurdle was "not accurate" as both the sides had shown a lot of enthusiasm to keep the negotiations going and that talks had shown positive momentum.

Rao said that the negotiations are delicate, sensitive and complex in nature, but that there was political resolve to see the deal through.

The two prime ministers welcomed the establishment of a Nuclear Energy Working Group under the Energy Dialogue in April 2010 to exchange views and information on their respective nuclear energy policies from the energy, economic and industrial perspectives.

They also said that the exchange of information between the nuclear energy industries of the two countries, including through business missions, should continue, recognizing the need to collaborate in expanding bilateral energy cooperation on a commercial basis.

The two prime ministers reaffirmed their shared commitment to the total elimination of nuclear weapons. While Japan stressed the importance of bringing into force the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty at an early date, India reiterated its commitment to a unilateral and voluntary moratorium on nuclear explosive testing.

Meanwhile, sources said that when the first round of negotiations between the two nations began in June 2010, India had assured Japan that the negotiations would move at the pace with which Japan was comfortable.

Moreover, it was Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara who first made it public that Japan was ready to discuss the civil nuclear cooperation issue with India.

India needs Japan for its energy needs as also for political and economic reasons. Tokyo, on the other hand, can access the huge Indian market -- especially for infrastructure and energy -- for two of the largest American civil nuclear power plant manufacturing companies that are controlled by Japan.

And yet, despite the fact that a lot hinges on the civil nuclear deal for India, the issue might not be pivotal for the overall objective that the two Asian nations seek to achieve. Add to this the security threat that Japan faces from China and North Korea.

A robust and long-term association between India and Japan, and other nations, which regard a belligerent China as a potent threat in the Asian region, would go a long way in forming a coalition as a counter to the rising might of Beijing.

Sources say that Japan enjoys tremendous goodwill with the Indians and India has been a good friend to Japan. Also, the current and overt American soft corner for India might also help the deal go through.

The two prime ministers reiterated the fundamental identity of values, interests and priorities between Japan and India.

They reaffirmed the political commitment in both countries cutting across party lines and popular desire for upgrading bilateral relations, and valued their cooperation for sustained peace and prosperity in a changing and dynamic Asia and the world.

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Shishir Bhate in Tokyo