Obama reveals nuclear breakthrough on landmark India trip

U.S. President Barack Obama said India and the U.S. had reached a “breakthrough” on two issues concerning a civil nuclear agreement.

“We have achieved a breakthrough and are moving towards full implementation of the civil nuclear energy deal,” Obama said during a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Mod. “Civil nuclear cooperation is a step to elevate our relationship.”

Prime Minister Modi said both countries were moving towards a “commercial” operationalization of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal signed in 2008.

“The civil nuclear agreement was the centerpiece of our transformed relationship, which demonstrated new trust. It also created new economic opportunities and expanded our option for clean energy,” Modi said.

“I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our law, our international legal obligations, and technical and commercial viability,” Modi said without providing any details.

Earlier, part of the Indian media had already reported that both the U.S. and India had broken a six-year-old impasse.

Citing unnamed sources, reports said that India has given up its insistence on a nuclear liability clause in case of a nuclear accident while the U.S. agreed to do away with tracking nuclear material in India.

But in Sunday’s joint press conference, the two leaders provided little details about the civil nuclear breakthrough, raising the possibility that there were still some issues yet to be ironed out.

Negotiators from the U.S. and India held three meetings in the past 45 days to resolve the pending issues in order to facilitate the establishment of U.S.-made nuclear power plants in the country.

Modi praised Obama for his “renewed energy” in the bilateral engagement.

“The promise and potential of this relationship had never been in doubt. This is natural global partnership,” Modi said. “We will also resume dialogue on the bilateral investment treaty.”

President Obama surprised the audience as he greeted reporters in Hindi.

Obama said deepening ties with India would remain one of the priorities of his administration.

“We are launching a new joint program to improve air quality in Indian cities,” he said, adding that the U.S. supported India’s ambitious role for solar energy.

When Modi was asked about the climate change deal between the U.S. and China, he said such a deal did not put pressure on a sovereign country like India.

“The U.S.-China climate deal does not put pressure on India, but climate change itself does. It’s a huge challenge,” Modi said.

“We support a reformed U.N. Security Council that sees India as a permanent member,” Obama added.

The U.S. and India also agreed to extend a 10-year defense agreement, establish a new military education partnership, and embark on four “pathfinder” projects, including research on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called the agreements “ground-breaking,” noting that they “promise to open a new chapter in our defense relationship.”

“Taken together, the president’s announcements signal a new depth and sophistication in our defense and security cooperation,” Hagel said in a statement.

Obama devoted considerable time answering questions concerning Russia, Ukraine and Yemen saying the U.S. had no interest in seeing a weakened Russia but it would not allow “bullying” of smaller countries.

Modi said India and the U.S. had decided to set up hotlines between the president and the PM and their respective national security advisors.

Modi said he has forged a friendship with Obama and they talk with “openness” and even cracking jokes.

Obama reached New Delhi on Sunday morning and was welcomed by Modi himself, in a “rare instance” of departure from the protocol.

The U.S. president drove to Raj Ghat, the memorial for Mahatma Gandhi, to pay his tribute to the father of the nation whom he described as “rare gift to the world.”

On Monday, Obama will be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the first U.S. president to participate in the annual parade, which celebrates the day independent India’s constitution came into force in 1950.

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