P.S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: India's commitment to nuclear disarmament and track record of non-proliferation were brought into focus by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy, Shyam Saran, during his talks with leaders and officials of Japan and South Korea this week.

The talks, which ended on Thursday, were aimed at briefing Japan and South Korea, two key members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), about India's ongoing engagement with the United States on civil nuclear cooperation.

Speaking to The Hindu over the telephone from Seoul, Mr. Saran said the purpose was "not to get an yes-or-no answer" to the question whether South Korea and Japan would, at the NSG level, endorse nuclear energy-related trade with India. The mission, he indicated, was to sensitise these NSG members to India's energy challenges and non-proliferation credentials.

Mr. Saran said the idea was to encourage the NSG members to "take into account the very unblemished record of non-proliferation that India has." Being "wedded to nuclear disarmament," India was also "willing to promote the cause ... as a partner in the global mainstream [of] non-proliferation."

Hoping that the NSG members would respond positively, he said "it is difficult" to predict a timeline by which the Group might reach a consensus on India's case. Asked whether South Korea and Japan wanted to see, first, the fine print of India's proposed "123 agreement" with the U.S. on civil nuclear energy cooperation, he said there was no such indication. He said India was addressing "the concerns of some NSG members." But he declined to identify the countries. Nor did he see them as NSG countries of concern to India.

Responding to a question, he said India "will be very mindful" of Japan's "sensitivities" with regard to the nuclear issue.

Mr. Saran was assisted by India's Ambassador to Japan, H.K. Singh, in Tokyo and by India's Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, N. Parthasarathi, in Seoul, besides Joint Secretaries Hamid Ali Rao and Gayathri I. Kumar in both these capitals.

The leaders Mr. Saran called on included Japanese Foreign Minister and Chief Cabinet Secretary, Taro Aso and Yasuhisa Shiozaki, and South Korean Foreign Minister and Senior Secretary to the President, Song Min-soon and Yoon Pyung-se.