India, US fast-track civil nuclear cooperation

India, US fast-track civil nuclear cooperation

India and the United States (US) on Tuesday put on fast-track civil nuclear cooperation amid indications that an early works agreement for building a nuclear power plant at Mithivirdi in Gujarat could be inked during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington in September.

Seeking to arrest the drift in bilateral relations, US Vice-President Joe Biden and Singh discussed a range of issues, including ways to boost trade and ease bottlenecks faced by American companies in India.

A key highlight of the hour-long Singh-Biden meeting was speeding up the commercial aspects of the civil nuclear cooperation. India has allocated two sites–Chhaya Mithivirdi in Gujarat and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh–to Westinghouse Electric and GE-Hitachi for developing nuclear parks.

The two sides are expected to sign an early works agreement between Westinghouse Electric and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited during Singh’s September visit to the US at the invitation of US President Barack Obama.

The two sides also discussed ways to boost trade ties, with Biden expressing concerns of American companies on alleged “discriminatory trade practices” of India, particularly on “intellectual property protection and limits on foreign direct investment”.“The prime minister underlined the significance of economic exchange between the two countries in helping India to tackle a host of issues relating to enhancement of the well-being of the Indian people,” an official statement said.

National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, Ambassador Nirupama Rao and Foreign Secretary-designate Sujatha Singh were present during the talks. Regional security, particularly Afghanistan where the US is scheduled to withdraw troops next year, also figured in the talks. It is learnt that Biden urged Singh to play a proactive role in training Afghan security forces. Vice-President Hamid Ansari, at a dinner hosted in honour of Biden, said India and the US should “jointly” counter the threats of terrorism and extremism with a realistic perspective of the dangers.

Biden also called on President Pranab Mukherjee who said India-US relations were based on shared fundamental values and a growing convergence of interests. Biden will address the captains of Indian industry at the Bombay Stock Exchange and interact with students at IIT-Powai on Wednesday before flying off to Singapore for a bilateral visit.

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