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Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (centre) applauds as Australia’s High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese (left) and India’s Secretary, Department of Space and Chairman of ISRO K Radhakrishnan exchange documents of a memorandum of understanding in Civil Space Science, Technology and Education in New Delhi, yesterday.
New Delhi: Opening a new chapter in their bilateral ties, India and Australia yesterday decided to start negotiations for a civil nuclear deal that will enable the sale of uranium by Canberra to New Delhi.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on a wide cluster of issues that included civil nuclear cooperation, intensification of economic ties and enhanced counter-terror and security cooperation.
“We have agreed to begin negotiations for an agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will precede actual cooperation,” Manmohan Singh said at a joint media statement with Gillard.
“As you are aware, under Prime Minister Gillard, the Australian Labour Party has articulated a new policy on uranium sales to India. This is recognition of India’s energy needs as well as of our record and credentials and I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard our India’s appreciation of this development,” he said.
The launch of nuclear negotiations marks a turning point in bilateral ties that were blossoming in virtually all areas, but were held back by Canberra’s reservations over selling uranium to a country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Gillard, the prime mover behind the India-Australia nuclear rapprochement, however, has made it clear that the deal could take a year or two before uranium exports begin.
In December last year, the ruling Labour Party reversed an earlier policy of not selling uranium to countries which have not signed the NPT.
“Australia has opened the door for uranium sales to India,” Gillard told industry leaders ahead of a meeting with Manmohan Singh, adding” “I look forward to discussing the next steps for our peaceful nuclear co-operation when I meet with Prime Minister Singh.”
The decision has removed a “point of tension” in relations between the nations, she stressed.
“Australia has changed, in determining to export uranium to India. India is changing, through important economic reforms in areas like energy, aviation and retail,” she added.
The two sides also announced a slew of steps that will imbue their burgeoning ties with greater depth and diversity. The initiatives include annual meetings at the summit level, either bilaterally or during multilateral events, a ministerial-level dialogue on energy security and setting up of a water technology partnership. They also decided to start negotiations for an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons. The two countries also decided to expand the strategic canvas of their partnership by agreeing to work closely in creating an inclusive order in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We are also developing wide-ranging cooperation in defence and security issues, including the fight against terrorism, in all of which we regard Australia as an important partner,” Manmohan Singh said.
The two sides decided to step up negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that will help scale up bilateral trade and investment.