Manmohan to meet Obama amid N-liability row

Bali : A day before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh meets US President Barack Obama here, India Thursday indicated it will work within its civil nuclear liability law, a key issue in its talks with Washington, and hoped for positive talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

Manmohan Singh began a three-day visit to Indonesia where to take part in the India-ASEAN summit and the 18-nation East Asia summit that are expected to boost to India’s Look East policy. However, the spotlight will be on two key bilateral meetings he will have with Obama and the Chinese premier in Bali on the margins of the the two summits Friday.

The meeting with Obama takes place a day after New Delhi quietly notified the implementation rules for the civil nuclear liability law that has come under fire for alleged dilution in suppliers’ liability.

Indian officials made it clear that India has to work within framework of its own law on issues relating to civil nuclear liability, specially in a post-Fukushima world that has brought to the fore the dangers of nuclear radiation and the need to protect citizens.

“This is a reality we have to recognize… We can’t say Indian laws won’t apply,” a source said when asked whether the issue would be an irritant in the Manmohan-Obama talks in Bali.

The rules relating to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act provides the nuclear plant operator the right to recourse for the period for which the supplier of equipment has taken liability for patent or latent defects or sub-standard services under a contract.

The rules effectively caps the amount and limits the duration (five years from the date of the accident) for which claims can be made against a supplier of nuclear power plant equipment.

It could allay the concerns of companies such as GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Westinghouse Electric Co wishing to enter the lucrative Indian market.

The US has said many a time that Indian civil nuclear liability law would have to be brought in conformity with international conventions and the current regime imposes a heavy burden on nuclear plant operators in India.

But the sources were keen to stress that the liability issue, an important step for fast-tracking the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal, will not overshadow the talks.

On the talks agenda will be terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan, trade with Pakistan and maritime security.

Another important interaction to watch out for will be the one between Manmohan and Wen, their first meeting since they last met in New Delhi in December 2010.

Despite differences over a host of issues, official sources in New Delhi struck an upbeat note saying the two countries enjoyed a “full spectrum” relationship. But they admitted that the relationship was “one of the most complex relationships in the world and the hardest to predict”.

Bilateral trade has shown a steady upswing and is touching $60 billion.

Ahead of the 15th round of boundary talks November-end, Indian sources said the second stage of firming up a framework for delineating the border was proving to be the hardest part of the three-stage process.

In a statement before his departure for Bali and Singapore, Manmohan Singh hoped that the 9th India-ASEAN summit and the 6th East Asia summit would boost India’s Look East policy and hoped for stronger ties amid concerns relating to disaster management, maritime security and terrorism.

The prime minister will be in Bali for two days before leaving Nov 19 for Singapore, where he will hold bilateral talks with the leadership there.

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