Tuesday, July 19, 2011

US pushes India on nuclear liability

Editor's note: If no private company can get insurance for for liability for 80 years after any accident in a nuclear power plant, than even the international markets are indicating the need to abandon nuclear power.

New Delhi:  The recent serial blasts in Mumbai and counter-terrorism dominated the agenda this morning as Foreign Affairs Minister SM Krishna met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. These talks form Round 2 of the India-US strategic partnership dialogue; the first was held two years ago.

However, both countries have major differences on the civilian nuclear deal.

Mr Krishna and Ms Clinton spoke at length about Pakistan. Ms Clinton said that America has repeatedly told Pakistan that the perpetrators of 26/11 have to be brought to justice. "We have made it forcefully clear to Pakistan that it has a special obligation to act transparently, fully and urgently." She added, "There is a limit to what the US and India can do. But we will press as hard as possible."

Mr Krishna, for his part, mentioned "the importance of elimination of terror sanctuaries in Pakistan for regional stability and Pakistan's future."

In a reference to the US raid that found and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Ms Clinton said, "We want mutual recognition that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists anywhere. When we know the location of terrorists whose intentions are clear, we need to work together. We do not believe there are any terrorists who should be given a safe haven or free pass by any government."

Clinton also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and assured him that the phased withdrawal of 33,000 US troops from Afghanistan by 2012, will not lead to the country's takeover by the Taliban.

While India and America seemed to share common ground in key areas like counter-terrorism and the sharing of intelligence, it was clear that serious differences continue to plague the civilian nuclear deal.  India has been concerned about new guidelines issued by the Nuclear Suppliers Group which make off-limits technology for enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) to countries like India who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  India wants America to commit that these technologies will be shared as part of the nuclear deal with Washington.

Ms Clinton reaffirmed the United States' commitment for full civil nuclear cooperation.  But she also stressed that "we need to resolve the issues that still remain." The main problem for US operators is a clause in India's new nuclear liability bill that makes the suppliers of reactors liable for 80 years for any accident at a plant. Private companies are unwilling to sign up, mainly because they are unable to find insurance to cover them for potentially crippling claims for damages.

Ms Clinton said it is critical for India to ratify within a year an International Convention that addresses liability, and then ensure that domestic laws comply with these guidelines.
While India does plan to ratify that convention, Indian laws are much tougher on suppliers than America wants.  Even so, Indian officials say, these domestic laws are compatible with the international treaty.

On trade and investment, Ms Clinton said, "Progress made but both countries need to remove barriers and create jobs and opportunities." Mr Krishna stressed, "I highlighted that Indian IT companies are contributing to US economy through investment and by supporting US competitiveness."

Ms Clinton is accompanied by a 25-member delegation including top security officials in the US administration. She will travel to Chennai tomorrow, where she is scheduled to meet Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Minister Jayalalithaa.

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