" Underlining a 'mutuality and convergence of interests' between India and Russia, Singh said: 'The strategic partnership between the two countries has stood the test of time'."
By Manish Chand

Moscow, Nov 12 - India and Russia Monday recharged their 'time-tested' ties by signing four agreements in space, defence, trade and narcotics control sectors, but agreed to defer a pact on Moscow building four additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu till the Nuclear Suppliers Group clears the India-US nuclear deal.

The two sides, however, stressed that they will continue to expand their ongoing cooperation in civilian nuclear energy.

The agreements were signed after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including the intensification of economic ties, civil nuclear cooperation, the Iranian issue, the trilateral cooperation between India, Russia and China, and the situation in their neighbourhood.

The space agreement was signed outside the Kremlin between the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Russia's Federal Space Agency.

'I am extremely satisfied with my discussions with President Putin. They were characterised by warmth, cordiality and unanimity on many of the issues that we had discussed at our last summit in January,' Manmohan Singh said after over two hours of restricted discussions with Putin at the Kremlin - one of the longest interactions with any head of state.

National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon were the only Indian officials present at the talks between Manmohan Singh and Putin before the two sides held delegation-level discussions.

In a clear message to those who see a chill in India-Russia ties, the two leaders affirmed their commitment to consolidate and expand their strategic ties and decided to underpin these with a robust economic partnership.

The four agreements signed on joint moon exploration under Chandrayaan-II project and exploration of outer space for peaceful purposes, the utilization of rupee-rouble debt for Russian investments in India, the joint production of a multi-role transport aircraft, and control of narcotics trafficking underlined the continuing vitality of bilateral ties.

'Russia has always been a reliable supplier and will always be a reliable partner,' Manmohan Singh said at a joint press interaction with Putin. He had earlier described Russia as a 'time-tested' friend.

Putin, who also hosted a banquet in Manmohan Singh's honour, reciprocated the sentiments. 'Russia has always been a reliable partner and India knows that,' Putin stressed.

'India and Russia enjoy extensive cooperation in peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And we have been doing it for years,' Manmohan Singh said.

'Russia is building two light water reactors at Kudankulam and has supplied fuel for Tarapur,' he said.

'An inter-governmental agreement to that effect is in progress. We look forward to further expanding cooperation in civil nuclear energy,' Manmohan Singh said while alluding to a protocol of intent on Russia building four additional nuclear reactors in Kudankuam signed by the two countries during Putin's visit.

The plan to build four more reactors at Kudankulam, however, can't proceed as India has yet to sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a change in guidelines by the NSG. Manmohan Singh explained that his government was trying to build a broad-based national consensus on the deal and will approach the IAEA only after resolving the issue with the Leftist allies of the ruling coalition.

The prime minister thanked Putin for 'Russia's steadfast support in supplementing India's nuclear energy programme and his assistance in lifting international restrictions on nuclear cooperation with India'.

Russia was one of the first countries to offer support to India in the 45-nation NSG after India and the US struck a historic civil nuclear cooperation accord in 2005. Russia is currently engaged in building two reactors of 1,000 MW at Kudankulam, which are nearing completion.

Space cooperation received a big impetus with India and Russia signing an agreement for joint moon exploration. The two countries are planning a moon landing by the end of 2011, Foreign Secretary Menon told reporters.

Indian officials brought up the issue of delay and price escalation in arms contracts with the Russian side, but both ended the delegation-level discussion on a positive note. They affirmed that defence cooperation was 'one of the pillars of strategic partnership' between the two countries.

The continuing strength of defence ties was illustrated by an agreement signed by the two sides on the joint development and production of multi-role transport aircraft. The two sides will also be collaborating on the joint development of a fifth generation fighter.

Besides defence, space and civil nuclear cooperation which have been pillars of the India-Russia ties, the two countries decided to set up a joint working group to accelerate their sluggish trade and investment ties and set a target of increasing bilateral trade from $4 billion to $10 billion by 2010.

They signed an agreement to resolve the long pending issue of rupee-rouble trade, which will enable the utilisation of accumulated rupee debt worth around Rs.46 billion for Russian investment in India.

'We discussed ways to substantially upgrade our economic ties which should form the bedrock of our strategic partnership. We agree that there are enormous opportunities for collaboration,' Singh said.

Underlining a 'mutuality and convergence of interests' between India and Russia, Singh said: 'The strategic partnership between the two countries has stood the test of time'.

'Through our discussions today, we have consolidated and strengthened our engagement in different areas. I am very satisfied with the results of my visit,' Manmohan Singh said hours before wrapping up his two-day whirlwind visit to Moscow.

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