Saturday, September 15, 2007

India offers Thailand nuclear cooperation from reports

India has officially indicated it hopes to become involved with Thai projects to develop nuclear power plants, the Indian media reported this morning.

Cooperation could begin soon, but "once the India-specific arrangement is in place" after discussions between New Delhi and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and after a relevant decision by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).

According to the reports by newsmen accomopanying External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on his official visit to Thailand, the minister conveyed the hope for nuclear cooperation to Thai counterpart, Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram, when the two met on Friday.

They presided over the India-Thailand Joint Commission meeting and also held talks in "a restricted meeting."

At a joint press conference on Friday, Mr Nitya said, "Thailand is widely interested in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy [and] there will be a number of issues that will have to follow upon our discussion today."

He said "nothing specific was mentioned" in the talks about either this possibility or the idea that Bangkok could access India’s space-vehicle launch capabilities to put a Thai satellite into orbit "in the immediate future."

In a separate comment, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said, "This is the best time for the relationship between our two countries."

He said they were looking forward to closer cooperation in not only trade and knowledge-based sectors but also defence. Thailand was trying to get closer to India "not only on the security side" of the defence equation but also in the field of military-coordinated disaster management.

Gen. Surayud said the India-Thailand free trade agreement "should be finalised sometime early next year."

Mr Nitya said bilateral trade, now nearing the annual turnover of $4 billion, could be scaled up to the $7-billion mark in three years.

Thailand’s priority was to recognise "the strengths we find our partner to have" so as to "share" those skills, especially in the knowledge sector.

Expressing Thailand’s interest in cooperating with India for the development of the Northeast, he said the government wanted to draw upon bilateral "synergies."

Indian media quoted Mr Mukherjee on the nuclear issue:

"I have assured the [Thai] Foreign Minister that our [Indian] track record in non-proliferation is impeccable. We have maintained strict control over the export of nuclear materials and technology. And whatever we have developed, we have developed not through clandestine trade but through our own indigenous scientific research and development.

"Our strategic programme and peaceful nuclear civilian programme are separated in watertight compartments. Whatever we will be receiving from the NSG and other countries will be subjected to the safeguards prescribed by the IAEA through India-specific safeguards agreements — no question of its diversion. So far as our current position is concerned, in plain words, we are debarred from nuclear trade."

Also on hand for the meetings on Friday were Indian Ambassador to Thailand Latha Reddy, and External Affairs Ministry Joint Secretaries Biren Nanda and Navjot Sarna.

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