Articulating his country’s desire to deepen Canberra’s strategic relationship with New Delhi, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday called for early closure of the ongoing discussion on nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

Articulating his country’s desire to deepen Canberra’s strategic relationship with New Delhi, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday called for early closure of the ongoing discussion on nuclear cooperation between the two countries.

Briefing mediapersons travelling with Dr. Singh on his two-nation tour to South East Asia, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry Ashok Kantha said Mr. Abbott reiterated his country’s commitment to stepping up its strategic engagement with India. The two Premiers discussed the ongoing dialogue on a civil nuclear agreement and Mr. Abbott said he was looking for an early closure.

This is the first time the two Premiers were meeting and comes in the wake of an overture from Australia right after Mr. Abbott became Prime Minister in September. “After taking over as Prime Minister, Mr. Abbott has been stressing on the importance of a closer engagement with India.”

The two Premiers met along the sidelines of the East Asia Summit and also discussed various aspects of defence and security partnership between the two countries. Besides, Mr. Abbott was keen to have Australian students look at India as an education destination so that they could cultivate a better understanding of Asia. In recent years, Australia’s stated policy of multiculturalism took a beating over attacks on Indian students.

At the meeting, Mr. Abbott sought to underline his familiarity with India and informed Dr. Singh about his three-month stay in India in 1981 during which time he visited Daltonganj, Hazaribagh and Bokaro.

Immediately after his meeting with Mr. Abbott, Dr. Singh had a brief interaction with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe. Again, Japan expressed a desire to deepen and expand the strategic engagement; a recurrent theme at the parallel Asean Summit where, too, there is an expectation that the security component of the India-ASEAN strategic alliance should be expanded further.

This, External Affairs Ministry officials said, was the take home from the Brunei capital as most of the dozen-and-a-half countries present were seeking greater strategic engagement with India. According to them, now that the mechanisms for economic cooperation are in place, the strategic component – including fighting trans-national crime and intelligence cooperation -- is the new ``growth area’’.

As to whether such a strategic engagement with ASEAN as a bloc and bilaterally with member countries besides Japan and Australia would raise tensions with China, officials pointed out that most of these countries already have similar linkages with Beijing.

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