India and Australia on Wednesday decided to begin talks on a nuclear agreement that would facilitate the supply of uranium to nuclear plants being set up here.

While the opening of negotiations for a civil nuclear agreement seeks to remove political mistrust, India is not yet ready to respond to feelers from the Canberra-Washington axis to resume the quadrilateral security architecture, in which the fourth corner is Japan, said official sources here. The concept was shelved following political opposition here and unhappiness expressed by China.

The sources referred to observations by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard at a joint media interaction after talks to suggest that both sides intend invigorating bilateral defence cooperation instead. Ms. Gillard listed India as among half-a-dozen countries that matter the most for Australia and sought greater defence and security relations, including full naval exercises while Dr. Singh spoke about the ongoing “wide-ranging” cooperation in defence and security issues.

Official sources said it would take time to conclude a civil nuclear agreement although Australia had supported the 2008 special exemption given to India by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). “It certainly won’t be in two rounds like we did with South Korea,” said an official source. In a joint statement, Ms. Gillard appreciated India’s non-proliferation record and hoped India will join the four global export control regimes including the NSG.

With uranium supplies on the anvil and energy ties having expanded from coal to include gas, both sides decided to initiate a Ministerial-level dialogue on energy security.

Dr. Singh and Ms. Gillard also decided to ensure regular political annual summit level meetings and expressed the need for regular interaction between Finance Ministers.

Student safety

Though violence against Indian students is now in the past, a memorandum of understanding among the four, signed in the presence of the two Prime Ministers, seeks to monitor agents and enrolment agencies in both India and Australia. The conclusion of an agreement on Student Mobility and Welfare, as Dr. Singh noted, was culmination of what Ms. Gillard had put in motion as Minister for Education in 2009. “The steps taken by the Australian Government since then have helped redress a number of issues faced by the Indian student community in Australia,” he said.

The Prime Minister also appreciated Ms. Gillard’s personal initiative that persuaded her Labour Party to review its policy on uranium sales to India. Ms. Gillard reaffirmed Australia’s support for India’s memberships of the United Nations Security Council and the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), while India responded by acknowledging Australia's candidature for a non permanent UNSC seat for the 2013-2014 term.

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