India and France close to civilian nuclear technology

India and France are close to reaching a deal that would allow India access to civilian nuclear technology, French President Jacques Chirac said in an interview released Friday. In an interview with India Today magazine ahead of his visit to India next week, the French leader also touched on two issues that have clouded Indo-French relations in recent weeks: the decommissioned French aircraft carrier containing toxic substances that was headed to India and allegations of French racism in reaction to last month's bid by Mittal Steel Co., run by Indian-born Lakshmi N. Mittal, to buy European steel giant Arcelor SA.

" France was the first country to argue at international level in favor of India , as a responsible power, gaining access to civilian nuclear technologies," Chirac said. India has been long cut off from most nuclear trade because of its testing of atomic weapons and its refusal to sign the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

India is also working on a similar deal with the United States in which Washington would share civilian nuclear technology and supply nuclear fuel to India in return for New Delhi separating its intertwined civilian and military nuclear programs and allowing international inspections of its civilian nuclear facilities. Chirac said U.S. support would make signing a deal more likely.

"We are close to reaching an agreement but more work is required on both sides," he told India Today. Chirac also said France would re-examine its policies in the wake of the dispute over the warship Clemenceau. The asbestos-carrying decommissioned French aircraft carrier was en route to India to be dismantled when Chirac ordered it back to France on Wednesday after protests from French and Indian environmental groups and trade unions, reports the AP.


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