Ahead of Obama visit, nuclear talks see ‘progress’

By Sarkaritel January 23, 2015 10:17

Ahead of Obama visit, nuclear talks see ‘progress’

New Delhi, Jan 23  With an India-US nuclear contact group engaged in hectic negotiations in London to iron out contentious issues over India’s nuclear liability law, the government Thursday said there has been “progress” in the talks but declined to disclose whether the Narendra Modi-Barack Obama meeting would see any breakthrough announcement on implementation of the stalled civil nuclear deal.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said negotiators from both sides were “working in a collaborative manner” in London. The meeting is the third of the contact group that comprises diplomats and officials associated with nuclear energy from both the countries. It was set up by Prime Minister Modi and President Obama during their September summit meeting in Washington to push forward implementation of the civil nuclear deal.

The contact group has met previously in New Delhi and in the US.

The fact that the group is meeting for the third time in 45 days is an indication of “the element of effort in discussions on the nuclear issue”, the spokesperson said.

He said that for India, nuclear energy is an important component of the energy mix.

Among the issues being discussed are “administrative arrangements” of how both sides would work administratively towards implementation of the deal.

Another aspect is that both countries have an earlier agreement that the US is to support India in its quest for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. “We are in discussions on how to actualise that,” the spokesperson added.

The third aspect of the talks relates to the understanding of India’s tough liability regime.

Asked specifically if the Modi-Obama meeting on Jan 25 would see any breakthrough announcement on implementation of the civil nuclear deal, the spokesperson said the talks are “in progress” and civil nuclear energy comprises an important aspect of India’s energy mix.

India’s stringent civil nuclear liability law – Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, 2010 — puts the onus on suppliers for any accident.

It was introduced in parliament when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now in power, was in the opposition.

Both the US and India are reported to be working towards a proposal to set up a $250 million insurance pool with money from all stakeholders to pay off liabilities.

The contact groups also comprise of representatives of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) from the Indian side and Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi from the US side.

Two provisions of the liability law are seen as areas of concern for the US, especially section 17(b) relating to channelling of the operator’s right of recourse on suppliers and section 46, which is seen as exposing suppliers to unlimited liability.

The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement was inked in 2005 between then US president George Bush and then prime minister Manmohan Singh.

It culminated in the formal 123-agreement bill approved by the US Congress and was signed into law in 2008.

New US Ambassador in India Richard Rahul Verma, during a talk Wednesday, expressed the hope that both sides could see progress in unravelling hindrances towards implementing the civil nuclear deal.

“We continue to be hopeful of implementing the civil nuclear agreement to fulfil Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of providing electricity to all Indians by 2020,” he said at an event in New Delhi.

By Sarkaritel January 23, 2015 10:17