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India and France Agree to Cooperate on Nuclear Energy

  • Anjana Pasricha

A visit to India by the president of France has led to an agreement for the two nations to cooperate on civilian nuclear technology. But, lurking in the background is an ongoing dispute between India and Europe over a bid by an Indian-born steel magnate to take over a major European steelmaker.

After an hour of talks in New Delhi, French President Jacques Chirac and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agreement on future cooperation in the civilian nuclear energy sector.

But such cooperation is only prospective at this point. France's decision to support India's bid to gain access to civilian nuclear energy technology comes as the United States is working to reverse a decades-old policy of denying such technology to the country.

Any cooperation between India and France is dependent on a successful deal between New Delhi and Washington, due to the rules of international nuclear trade.

President Chirac told a press conference that France understands India's need for peacetime nuclear energy.

"This access we feel on the side of France is indeed necessary to drive and fuel India's economic development, without at one and the same time leading to excessive pollution which would arise from large-scale emissions of greenhouse gases," he said.

Mr. Chirac's visit also comes at a time of discord between India and Europe. Indian-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal is the owner of Mittal Steel Company, the world's largest steel maker. He has made a hostile takeover bid for European steelmaker Arcelor.

News of the Mittal bid led some European officials to comment that the companies were ill-matched because of different corporate cultures and values - comments that some in India interpreted as racist.

Mr. Chirac strongly denied that. He said Mittal Steel's bid had been made without revealing any "industrial plan," and it was the right of Europeans to be know what the plans were for the massive company.

"It is equally the right of Europeans to care about their jobs, their future, and the technologies involved, and what the future holds in store for them," he said.

The prospective nuclear cooperation deal was among nine agreements signed between the two countries, in areas ranging from defense to trade and education.

These included an agreement by India's state-run airline to purchase 43 European-made Airbus airplanes.

Mr. Chirac came to India accompanied by a large business delegation seeking more business ties with India's growing economy. The French president said he hopes to double trade with India in the next five years.

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