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Aussie nuclear talks in March

New Delhi, Jan. 21 (PTI): India and Australia today agreed to begin negotiating a civil nuclear pact in March besides broadening trade and economic relations.

Foreign ministers Salman Khurshid and Bob Carr decided after 90 minutes of talks that the first round of the negotiations would be held in New Delhi.

“India is a key part of Australia’s future,” Carr said, adding that the agreement would allow India to import uranium from Australia, home to about 40 per cent of the world’s uranium reserves.

Khurshid said India would also host a meeting of the joint commission of commerce ministers, which will provide a fillip to bilateral trade, now worth about Rs 1.2 lakh crore.

“Our trade negotiators have been engaged in broadening understanding towards a mutually beneficial ‘comprehensive economic co-operation agreement’,” he said.

During the talks, it was decided that defence minister A.K. Antony would visit Australia sometime in March for discussions on defence and security co-operation. This will be the first visit by any Indian defence minister to Australia.

Asked about the timeframe for concluding the nuclear pact negotiations, Khurshid said: “When we speak on a matter of such high import, to actually put an artificial deadline and say we must complete it within this period would not be appropriate. Obviously, a sense of urgency and purpose would be there and hopefully we would move quite swiftly.”

Canberra had agreed to start negotiations on a civil nuclear deal with India during the October New Delhi visit by Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

In December 2011, Gillard’s Labour Party had overturned its longstanding ban on exporting uranium to India, which had been imposed because New Delhi is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Khurshid said India and Australia had widened their co-operation on water resources, and a “water technology partnership” would take shape at the next joint working group meeting in April.