Within the international community India is hardly recognized as a nuclear power. The visit of French President Jacques Chirac could help change that as it brings India a step closer to its goal.
Inside the control room of the Kalpakkam Atomic Center
The French president arrived in India Feb. 19 for a whistle-stop visit aimed at improving ties with the emerging economic powerhouse. Accompanied by no less than five ministers and 32 business executives, Chirac has said he will seek to boost trade levels with Asia's third-largest economy.
Among those traveling in the French delegation are representatives from the nuclear power station builder Areva, which hopes talks between fuel-hungry India and France, which relies on nuclear power for its energy needs, will lead to new business possibilities. Prior to his arrival, Chirac said future civilian nuclear technology cooperation was a goal for his visit.
Power plant in Ahmedabad, India
"If we don't help India produce electricity using nuclear power, we would let India develop into a chimney for greenhouse gases," the French leader said Saturday.
Nuclear vs. fossil fuel
Referring to the expanding demands for energy in India and the rapid consumption of fossil fuels, Chirac explained "the minimum we must do is to let India respond to its energy needs without becoming a major polluting nation."
Nuclear power plant in Flamanville, Normandy
France, which is a strong advocate for atomic energy in Europe, would like to help India develop its nuclear power potentials within the framework of the non-proliferation agreement. As Chirac and representatives from Areva have recognized, French nuclear companies stand to profit greatly if such a cooperation came into existence.
Chirac, who last visited India eight years ago, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are due to sign a declaration on the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes on Tuesday.
India, however, has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and until a landmark Indo-US agreement to supply New Delhi with long-denied civilian nuclear technology is approved by the US Congress there can be no deals with Paris.
Nuclear cooperation between France and India hinges on a breakthrough in deadlocked talks between New Delhi and Washington. The two sides are at odds over US demands for India to open up more of its nuclear facilities to international inspection. According to the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – of which Paris is a key member – France will not be able to sell export-restricted nuclear technology to India until there is agreement with the US.
India's supersonic cruise missiles are capable of reaching Pakistan
Stephen Cohen from the Washington-based Brookings Institute told DW-WORLD that the US is inclined to hammer out a deal with India but had to make "absolutely certain that no delivered material may be used for a weapons program."
Special status for India ?
In an interview with India Today, Chirac came out strong in favor of offering nuclear assistance to India. "The recognition of a special status for India through the NSG is a high priority," he said.
But critics fear such an agreement would water down the non-proliferation treaty. According to Ian Anthony from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, if trade with a nuclear power is possible even though it has not signed the NPT, other countries will question the worth of the NPT.
Thorny issues on horizon
Arcelor steel plant in Differdange, Luxembourg
Chirac's ability to press ahead with closer ties to India through favorable nuclear deals may be overshadowed by another thorny issue – concern in India over the frosty reaction in France and Europe to Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal's bid for European steel giant Arcelor.
Leaders in India have been strongly protesting the interference of French and other European governments in the ongoing plans for Mittal steel to take over the Luxembourg-based Arcelor. The European steel group is owned in part by several EU member states such as Luxembourg and France, and a good number of jobs are tied up in the company.
Last week, Indian Trade Minister Kamal Nath warned European nations opposing the bid, which would forge the world's largest steel group, not to consider the color of a person's skin. French government officials insist Mittal's nationality is not a factor, with Chirac citing concern over the loss of jobs and saying the takeover would not be in Arcelor's "best interest."