Asserting that there were "no irritants" in India and the U.S. working together, Dr. Singh said India had already "gone some way to respond to the concerns of American companies" with the nuclear liability law.
Asserting that there were “no irritants whatsoever” in India and the U.S. working together in multiplicity of areas, both bilateral and global, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday chose the middle path in his articulation of the Indian position on the implementation of the Nuclear Liability Act that is perceived by the Americans as heavily tilted against companies supplying nuclear equipment.
In an hour-long meeting with U.S. President Barrack Obama on the sidelines of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit here on Friday, Dr. Singh said that if U.S. nuclear equipment supplier companies had apprehensions about the letter and the spirit of the law, India could consider an India-U.S. joint group to iron out difficulties.
The offer by Dr. Singh, a day after India notified the rules for implementing the law enacted by Parliament in August 2010, suggests that in the assessment of Washington the rules do not help much in meeting the worries of the U.S. nuclear suppliers companies. In response to President Obama's take on the legislation, Dr. Singh noted that the newly notified rules for its implementation were in conformity with the Indian law.
“I explained to President Obama that we have a law in place and the rules have been formulated. These will lie in Parliament for 30 days. Therefore, we have gone some way to respond to the concerns of the American companies and, within the four corners of the law of the land, we are willing to address specific grievances,” Dr. Singh told reporters as he emerged from his meeting.
Interestingly, this was the only question put to Dr. Singh and after the cryptic answer the Prime Minister moved on. He was obviously more than keen on sending a public message that the law was not an insurmountable block to strengthening India-US civil nuclear cooperation.
The opening remarks of the two leaders did not flag any specific issue of concern to either side. The only point referred to by the U.S. President that did not figure in the remarks of Dr. Singh pertained to “non-proliferation.” Mr. Obama had said that the U.S. believed multilateral meetings like the East Asia Summit could be the “premiere area” for both sides to work together on a wide range of issues, including non-proliferation.
Dr. Singh told President Obama that the centrality of ASEAN should be respected. The observation is to be seen against the backdrop of Mr. Obama's latest high-profile visit to Asia, billed as an initiative by Washington to assert its presence across the Asia-Pacific and send a signal to China. Going by the Indian media on the meeting, South Asia was not on top of the agenda of the two leaders.
Dr. Singh briefed President Obama on his discussions with Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the SAARC Summit in Maldives and the Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai during his recent visit to India.
The Prime Minister referred to the recommendations of the India-U.S. CEO Forum on strengthening the involvement of the two countries on the economic front and said India would look forward to investments by U.S. companies in the infrastructure sectors.
In recent weeks, India has allowed 26 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in pension, aviation and the retail sector, a demand Washington has been making.
Dr. Singh recalled Mr. Obama's “historic visit” to India in November 2010. “In the last one year, we have made progress in every direction, strengthening our bilateral cooperation in investment, trade, higher education, clean energy and defence,” he said.
Mr. Obama refereed to his “extraordinary” trip to India during which the two sides strengthened the bonds of friendship, commercial links and security cooperation. “We continue to make progress on a wide range of issues. The bonds between our two countries are not just at the leadership level, but also at personal levels. This is an outstanding opportunity for us to continue to explore how we can work together.”