France finalize nuke deal, ink pacts to boost ties

( dpa ) - India and France on Friday announced they had finalized negotiations for a bilateral agreement on cooperation in civilian nuclear energy and signed five pacts in the areas of defence, science and nuclear research to give a "fresh impetus" to their strategic partnership.

The two countries decided to enhance trade and investment, technology transfers and cooperation in the scientific, nuclear, defence and culture and educational fields, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a joint press briefing with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in New Delhi.

Sarkozy, who held wide-ranging talks with Singh in the Indian capital, advocated waivers to India to allow it access to civilian nuclear energy, saying the country never proliferated nuclear technology.

"We know that India's energy needs are huge. If we don't allow access to civilian nuclear energy, it will go to more polluting sources," said Sarkozy.

According to the joint statement issued at the end of talks, the agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation, "forms the basis of wide ranging bilateral cooperation from basic and applied research to full civil nuclear cooperation including reactors, fuel supply and management."

Paris will sign the agreement after India reaches a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and gets exemptions from the Nuclear Suppliers Group for its nuclear deal with the US.

India and the US have agreed on a civilian nuclear deal that would allow the US to provide nuclear materials and technology to civilian reactors in India ending a 30-year ban.

But India has to enter a country-specific safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the deal has to be approved by the Nuclear Suppliers Group before it can become operational.

India and France also decided to ramp up business ties and set an ambitious target to double two-way trade to 12 billion dollars in the next five years and step up investments.

Both countries also signed agreements on protection of classified defence information, transfer of prisoners and cooperation in the area of neurosciences.

Another agreement relates to the participation of the Indian Department of Atomic Energy in a research project, the Jules Horowitz Reactor, which will be built by the French Atomic Energy Commission.

Singh said the both sides had agreed to strengthen military ties and go beyond the buyer-seller relationship.

"We will increasingly focus on joint research and development projects, transfer of technology and greater military exchanges," Singh said. Bilateral defence ties are looking up joint army and navy exercises planned in the next few months.

India and France also decided to strengthen cooperation to fight terrorism by boosting coordination between their intelligence agencies.

The two countries also issued a joint declaration on global warming and decided to create a joint group on environment dealing with clean technology transfers and their financing.

Sarkozy, who arrived in India Friday morning on a two-day visit, was scheduled to meet Indian leaders including his counterpart Pratibha Patil and chairwoman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Sonia Gandhi later in the day.

He was also slated to attend a joint India-France business conference.

Sarkozy will be the chief guest at India's Republic Day celebrations on Saturday.

He is due to make a brief visit to the Taj Mahal city of Agra which has fuelled speculation in the Indian press that his girlfriend Carla Bruni might join him there. He leaves for Paris on Saturday night.

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