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Chinese Envoy Visits India as New Delhi Get International Nod to Engage in Civil Nuclear Trade

By Steve Herman
New Delhi
08 September 2008

China's foreign minister is in India attempting to smooth ruffled feathers with its neighboring nuclear power. Indian officials are disappointed that China attempted to scuttle a landmark international agreement ending a 34-year ban on nuclear trade with India. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Indian media are expressing the sentiment that Beijing double-crossed New Delhi. The perception is that despite Chinese President Hu Jintao's assurance Beijing would support lifting the embargo on international nuclear trade with India, China attempted to block Saturday's agreement made by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Surrounded by reporters in Kolkata for the opening of a Chinese consulate there, China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi avoiding directly commenting on the issue. Instead he praised the rise of India concurrent with that of his own country, saying Asia's two largest nations should work "shoulder to shoulder" for peace in the region.

"I think it is a good omen for our friendship and cooperation in the future," he said.

Yang then headed to New Delhi to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

Prior to his talks with his Chinese counterpart, Mukherjee hailed the historic agreement allowing India unrestricted nuclear trade.

India had been blacklisted for decades after carrying out nuclear weapons tests and for not signing international atomic agreements on limiting nuclear proliferation. The Vienna agreement permits nuclear trade with India even though New Delhi has not signed any such treaties.

The United States led the international campaign to end India's isolation as part of an agreement made in 2005 between Prime Minister Singh and U.S. President George W. Bush. India is now awaiting U.S. congressional passage of the pact.

Foreign Minister Mukherjee, speaking to reporters in New Delhi on Monday, says American approval will open India's multi-billion dollar civil nuclear sector to foreign entities.

"After that we would be able to enter into bilateral agreements with other countries," he said.

There are plans to obtain six new nuclear reactors from France and four from Russia.

But in a setback for India's nuclear energy ambitions, Australian officials say they will not sell uranium to India even though Canberra voted with other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to end the trade embargo on India. The Australians say their stance will not change unless India signs the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

The subject is certain to be discussed when Australia's foreign minister Stephen Smith meets with Indian government officials here this week.

The nuclear deal has been controversial in India with opponents contending it would impinge on the country's sovereignty by limiting India's ability to carry out any future nuclear weapons tests. Those in favor of the deal argued India could not expand the nuclear power generation sector without foreign help and such a move is critical for the country's booming economy, hobbled by energy shortfalls.



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