Canberra, Delhi start talks for nuke deal

Australia and India may hold bilateral naval exercise

Warships of India and Australia may soon exercise in the strategically important Indian Ocean, raising hackles in China, which is increasingly vying for a toehold in the maritime space in the same region

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New Delhi and Canberra also announced the launch of negotiations for a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which will pave the way for sale of Australian uranium to India.

India and Australia do not conduct bilateral joint naval exercise at present. Australia, however, had in 2007 joined India, US, Japan and Singapore for the ‘Malabar’ naval exercise in Bay of Bengal.

The five-nation drill had purportedly rattled China, which had earlier that year issued strong demarches to New Delhi, Washington, Canberra and Tokyo seeking to know details of a quadrilateral initiative launched by the four nations.

Noting that the strategic partnership of India and Australia was “responding well to the significant transformations in our region and to the developmental aspirations of our two peoples”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the two countries were developing “wide-ranging cooperation” in defence and security issues.

Singh and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard were addressing media-persons after they led the delegations of the respective countries in a dialogue that focused on “measures to give greater content” to the bilateral relations.

Gillard, who was on a visit to New Delhi since Monday, said earlier on Wednesday that Australia wanted to step up defence and security cooperation with India and would like to work together with the latter to protect vital sea routes in the Indo-Pacific. The two prime ministers reaffirmed “the positive security and defence ties between both countries, and committed to enhance maritime cooperation further, including through continued joint naval exercises”.

New Delhi and Canberra had elevated the bilateral ties to strategic partnership during Gillard’s predecessor Kevin Rudd’s visit to India in 2009.

Singh thanked Gillard for leading Australia’s ruling Labour Party to change its policy on supplying uranium to India. The change of policy by the ruling party set the ball rolling for lifting the Oz Government’s ban on sale of yellow cake to India.

“This is recognition of India’s energy needs as well as of our record and credentials,” he said.

Though New Delhi had secured a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in 2008, the Labour Party Government in Australia had till November 2011 remained firm on its stand of not selling uranium to India, particularly because the latter had not signed the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. India, however, has been keen to source some of the uranium required for its ambitious nuclear programme from Australia, which has nearly 40 per cent of the world’s yellow cake reserve.

Singh and Gillard on Wednesday also agreed to hold annual meetings at the summit level, either bilaterally or during multilateral events. The two prime ministers also agreed to launch a minister-level dialogue on energy security, establish a water technology partnership and start negotiations for an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons.

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