Manmohan Singh keen to seal nuclear deal ahead of meeting with Obama

Contract with Westinghouse would burnish premier's credentials at meeting with Obama

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 4:32am

India is making a last-minute push to close a nuclear deal in time for a meeting between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has made atomic energy co-operation with Washington a hallmark of his tenure.

Under the proposed deal, India would contract Toshiba's US nuclear unit Westinghouse for preliminary works on nuclear plants in the state of Gujarat, including information sharing, a senior Indian official said.

Singh is due to meet Obama in Washington on Friday.

Indian officials say the proposed deal between Westinghouse and India's NPCIL would be the first time money was committed to a commercial US nuclear supplier since Singh (pictured) staked his career on a civil nuclear pact with president George W. Bush five years ago.

A commercial contract, however small, could breathe life into Singh's flagship policy as he nears the end of a decade in office amid grumbling in Washington that ties with India have so far failed to deliver rewards for US businesses.

Many see the 2008 pact as Singh's crowning achievement, ending years of isolation following atomic weapons tests in 1974 and 1998 and heralding a new era in the often fraught relations between the two democracies.

But on the nuclear front, progress has been slow because laws governing liability in the case of accidents took several years to finalise and when they came, put the onus on the equipment suppliers.

"Not just the US, ... Indian domestic suppliers, other foreign partners, all ask questions: how will this law work?" India's national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, said.

Rules drawn up in 2011 limit the liability of suppliers and were seen as softening the law.

The preliminary deal with Westinghouse would not involve putting in place nuclear equipment, so would not immediately brush up against the liability issue, Indian officials said.

The last-minute dash for clearance has been criticised by Indian opposition parties, which accused the government of trying to bypass due process and water down the liability law.