Favouring an early closure of nuclear cooperation deal and sale of uranium to India, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today said he was committed for stronger bilateral ties.
In his first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Brunei on the sidelines of ASEAN and East Asia Summits, Abbott said he was committed to closer engagements with India on various areas of cooperation including on uranium issue, top officials said.
Briefing the media about the meeting, Secretary (East)in External Affairs Ministry Ashok Kantha said Abbott also recalled his stay in India years ago at places like Hazaribagh and Bokaro (in Jharkhand). "Abbott said he is committed to cooperation on nuclear issue and other areas and he wants to bring this agreement to closure at an early date," Kantha said, while adding that a meeting in this regard may take place in December.
India and Australia held their first-ever talks on a civil nuclear partnership agreement in March this year after the Labour government of of former prime minister Julia Gillard decided to ease up on its stated policy of not conducting nuclear-related trade with India.
If the two nations go ahead with the deal, India will be the first customer of Australia that is not a signatory to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year.
Singh and Abbott also discussed issues like defence, security, joint naval exercise, Nalanda university, and student exchange programmes.
In another bilateral meeting with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Singh discussed various issues of strategic importance and cooperation in areas like Delhi Metro, Delhi Mumbai corridor, defence security cooperation, Kantha said. However, no new projects were discussed during this meeting and the discussions would be taken forward during the forthcoming India visits of Japanese Emperor and Prime Minister later this year and in early 2014, respectively, he added.
Officials, travelling with the Prime Minister on his 4-day tour to Brunei and Indonesia, said that relationships with ASEAN and other Asian countries are now moving towards more strategic partnerships as areas of cooperation have expanded from only economic issues to security, defence, intelligence sharing etc.
Even on trade, the relations would grow multi-fold after the FTA on services and investments is signed with ASEAN later this year and gets implemented by July 2014. Kantha said that ASEAN leaders now expect to strengthen the security dimension of cooperation with India.
The issue of maritime security was also discussed by various leaders in Brunei, while other areas where cooperation is expected to increase include counter terrorism measures, non traditional security threats and disaster mitigation and management.
On South China Sea dispute, India made its position clear that the freedom of navigation should be there as per international norms and an early resolution should be worked by first making early progress towards adoption of Code of Conduct norms.
Asked about a different approach taken by China on this issue, officials said India was very clear on its position irrespective of any other country's view. They said that there were certainly some differences among countries on the issue of sovereignty but India was firm on its stance that these issues should be resolved through consultations as per the international norms.