With India insisting on concrete assurances from all its nuclear partners, France has again sought to allay Indian concerns about the sanctity of the waiver it received in 2008 from the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s export ban.
“With longstanding French support, India has been granted a clean exemption by the NSG, allowing for full civilian nuclear cooperation”, Ambassador Jérôme Bonnafont said in a statement here on Tuesday, hissecond in a week. “This exemption reflects the unique situation of India and constitutes a historical achievement. Therefore, in the French view, nothing in the existing and future guidelines shall be interpreted as detracting from that exemption or reducing the ambition of our bilateral cooperation.”
India has objected to the new guidelines adopted by the NSG last month on the export of enrichment and reprocessing (ENR) equipment which include membership in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty as a condition for supply. Having secured a waiver from the NSG’s catch-all full-scope safeguards requirement in 2008, New Delhi sees the new guidelines as a rollback.
The latest French reassurance that “nothing in the existing and future guidelines shall be interpreted as detracting from that exemption” will likely be seen by South Block as an improvement over the guarded statement Mr. Bonnafont issued earlier. On July 1, he had said only that the new ENR rule “does not undermine the principles of [the 2008] exemption.”
Although the Franco-Indian bilateral agreement does not explicitly provide for the transfer of ENR, Mr. Bonnafont’s latest statement also reiterates the inclusive nature of that text. “This agreement aims at expanding our existing cooperation to ‘full civil nuclear cooperation for the development and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes’...,” he said. The ambassador emphasised that this “covers all aspects of a civilian nuclear program, including nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear fuel and nuclear waste management, and scientific cooperation”.
ENR is covered by the ‘nuclear fuel cycle’, diplomatic sources told The Hindu, though such cooperation is not on the bilateral agenda for the present.