Nuclear cooperation tops agenda of Singh's visit to US, France

Other News Materials 22 September 2008 15:15 (UTC +04:00)

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday embarked on a 10-day visit to the United States and France which is expected to mark India's opening nuclear trade with the world after a three-decade ban.

Singh is scheduled to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York as well as the India-European Union Summit in Marseilles before returning on October 2, reported dpa.

The highlight of Singh's visit will be meeting US President George W Bush in Washington on Thursday amid the possibility that the US-India civil nuclear energy deal could be signed.

Indian and US diplomats were hoping that the US Congress will ratify the nuclear agreement before the Bush-Singh meeting.

Earlier this month, the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted a 34-year-old ban to allow India to trade in fissile materials and technology.

The nuclear deal is the centrepiece of the Washington's efforts to strengthen ties with India.

"I look forward to my discussions with him (Bush) on the entire range of issues on our bilateral agenda with the United States including our civil nuclear initiative," Singh said in statement.

Singh's first diplomatic stop will be New York on Tuesday where he is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly.

Against the backdrop of terrorist bombings in Indian cities, Singh called for "collective and multilateral approaches" to deal with global challenges like terrorism and energy crises.

Singh is also due to meet with Pakistan's newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in New York.

Later, Singh is scheduled to travel to Marseilles to attend an India-EU summit on September 29. He will leave for Paris the next day for a bilateral summit with Sarkozy.

India and France negotiated a nuclear cooperation pact during Sarkozy's visit to Delhi in January, which could also be clinched and signed after bilateral talks, Indian officials said.

France is a key player in civilian nuclear energy and is keen to begin nuclear trade with India.

"I am confident that my visit will lead to the further consolidation of our relations in the areas of trade and investment, defence, space, civil nuclear cooperation and high technology," Singh said in the statement.

Indian officials said nuclear energy is vital in meeting the fast-growing country's energy demands.

Industry analysts estimate that India's civilian nuclear energy programme could generate business worth 100 billion dollars over the next decade.

On India-EU ties, Singh said India enjoyed a multi-faceted strategic relationship with the EU.

"India and Europe are bound by common values of democracy and pluralism. We have diverse areas of cooperation, including in the area of counter-terrorism, which I will seek to strengthen," he said.

Singh also plans to attend an India-EU business summit in Paris on September 30.

The EU is India's largest trading partner and two-way trade has grown over the past few years to reach 55.7 billion euros (81 billion dollars) currently.