France and Pakistan have agreed to cooperate in the nuclear field, officials said recently, with Islamabad claiming an important breakthrough in its bid to be seen as a responsible nuclear power.
Following talks between France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, the French leader’s office said he had offered to help Pakistan improve its “nuclear safety” capability.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi went further, saying France had agreed to a transfer of civilian nuclear energy technology, despite international concerns over the stability of Pakistan’s government.
France is a major exporter of nuclear technology, and in February agreed to supply India with between two and six modern reactors.
“France has agreed to transfer civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan,” Qureshi said, explaining that Pakistan was suffering an “energy crisis” and needed nuclear power to guarantee its electricity supply.
In addition to maintaining a small arsenal of nuclear armed missiles, Pakistan has a civilian nuclear energy programme developed with Chinese aid, with one working power station and another under construction.
A spokesman for the French presidency said Sarkozy had “confirmed France was ready, within the framework of its international agreements, to cooperate with Pakistan in the field of nuclear safety.”
“This is so the Pakistani programme can develop in the best conditions of safety and security,” he added.
Qureshi hailed the French offer as an important sign of his government’s credibility.
“That is a significant development, and we have agreed that Pakistan should be treated like India. President Sarkozy said, and I quote him, “What can be done for India, can be done for Pakistan as well.” he said.
India, however, negotiated bilateral nuclear agreements with the United States, Russia and France, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has now allowed Delhi in from the nuclear cold.
“Pakistan has no issues with the IAEA. Pakistan will give all necessary international guarantees,” Qureshi insisted.
“The world recognises the steps Pakistan has taken to assure and protect its nuclear assets. Everyone who matters is confident about our arrangements, the three-layer security system that we have put in place.”
Asked when French shipments might begin, he said, “Today, in principle, the two countries agreed that there is a necessity that has to be fulfilled. In principle they’ve agreed, and now the modalities will be worked out.”