India, Oz to begin n-deal talks

India and Australia on Wednesday decided to start negotiations for the civilian nuclear deal, almost a year after the ruling Labour Party decided to export uranium to India.

After talks with visiting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "As you are aware 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 our appreciation of this development. We have agreed to begin negotiations for an Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation, which will precede actual cooperation."

Gillard said, "In the past year, another barrier to relations has been removed. Australia has opened the door for uranium sales to India. We did this because, to quote Prime Minister Singh in another time and place, it is 'an idea whose time had come'."

About the talks on the uranium sales, she told a gathering of business community here over lunch, "These discussions are much more than an opportunity for jobs and exports or even a step for energy security. They demonstrate in the most practical way that the strategic partnership between India and Australia is founded on enduring shared interests."

Earlier in the day, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna thanked Gillard for taking a "political risk" by deciding to reverse a long-term policy of not supplying uranium. During the talks, Singh and Gillard decided to launch a "Ministerial-level Dialogue on Energy Security, establish a Water Technology Partnership and start negotiations for an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons".

The two sides also signed four MoUs, including on cooperation in wool and wool products, student mobility and welfare and in civil space science, technology and education.

Singh said there is much potential to further strengthen bilateral trade and investment. "Our negotiators are working towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement," he said. Gillard also called on the President and held wide-ranging discussions on various issues.

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