France not for India-like nuclear pact with Pakistan; Top French government official says no truth in Qureshi statement

Much as Pakistan has been trying to project in recent months that France’s initiative for a “strategic relationship” with it was on the same lines as that with India, a top French government official made it categorically clear that in no case would it include a civil nuclear cooperation deal.

In response to a query as to whether Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s claim that Paris had decided to initiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Islamabad, the official dismissed it outright saying there was no truth in that statement.

Talking to The Hindu here, he said: “I can say that nothing like it is on the table. We [France] would like to ensure safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal but there is no question of getting into an India-like civil nuclear pact with them. Nothing like it is happening.”

Almost immediately after French President Sarkozy’s meeting with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari in May, Mr Qureshi had gone on record that France had made an offer to Islamabad for a civil nuclear deal on the same lines as had been initialled with India in 2008.

At that point of time, the French government qualified its initiative as being interested in ensuring the “safety” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Following the dismissal of Pakistan’s claim of a full-fledged agreement in the nuclear field, it is now clear that France cannot afford to have such a deal with it under the present circumstances.

In the event, President Sarkozy’s likely visit to Pakistan in the near future, as has been talked about earlier, would be more as a show of solidarity in its ongoing initiative against terrorism.

Mr Qureshi, it may be recalled, had stated earlier that France had expressed its readiness to civil nuclear technology to Pakistan to help it in tackling the acute power crisis.

According to the French government, it was ready within the framework of its international agreements “to co-operate with Pakistan in the field of nuclear safety” and ensure that “the Pakistani programme can develop in the best conditions of safety and security.”

Humanitarian aid

France has pledged 12 million euros humanitarian aid for Pakistan and also reiterated its support for Islamabad’s fight against Taliban and other terror groups in the region.

The statement, therefore, was a matter of concern in India as it appeared that France was tending to overlook Pakistan’s proliferation record merely to further its business interests in the power sector.

Incidentally, France’s nuclear giant Areva is developing the new-age EPR reactors and is scouting for markets where there is demand for nuclear energy. It is already building two such EPR reactors in India.

Though India, like Pakistan, has not signed the NPT, it has succeeded in getting a clean waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group last year to carry out civil nuclear commerce, mainly on the strength of its impeccable track record on the non proliferation front.

The French official noted that the nuclear deal with India would be implemented in the “broadest possible way.”

Asked why France did not want to supply reprocessing technology to India, he said: “It will be comprehensive but the fact that India has not signed NPT is obviously a concern because what we do has to be in keeping with our international commitments.”

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