Defence cooperation also comes up for discussion

India and the Republic of Korea here on Monday inked an agreement for cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, taking to completion the in-principle agreement announced in Hanoi last year on the sidelines of the Asean-India Summit.

After a restricted meeting between President Pratibha Patil and her South Korean counterpart Lee Myung-bak, followed by delegation-level discussions, the civil nuclear agreement was signed by Srikumar Banerjee, Atomic Energy Secretary, and Kim Sung-Hwan, South Korean Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Officially it was stated this reflected the strategic partnership which already existed between the two countries.

While two more agreements were signed on culture and sports and media exchanges as well as social security arrangements for Indian professionals working here, India did also explore the possibility of South Korea using Indian Space Research Organisation facilities for launching its satellites.

Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East), Ministry of External Affairs, told journalists that the two countries “discussed possibilities of cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. India looks forward to once again launching Korean satellites on Indian rockets.”

Ms. Patil had told the South Korean President that India's facilities in this sector were of high quality and available at competitive prices, Mr. Singh said.

Defence cooperation also came up for discussion. India is planning to open a Defence Attache's office in Seoul. In the context of recent threats to shipping, it was felt that there was a possibility of increased naval and Coast Guard cooperation. The South Korean Defence Minister is expected to visit India later this year.

Enhance market excess

Reviewing implementation of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, both sides were satisfied that it had yielded the desired results. There was a view, however, that Indian pharma products and IT services could do better here.

Seoul could help to enhance market access for these products. South Korean investment in India was over $2 billion and New Delhi would welcome more, especially if Korean companies made India their manufacturing base.

People-to-people contact

With a view to ensuring better people-to-people contact, it was decided to ask civil aviation authorities of both countries to explore the possibility of operating more direct flights. Currently, about 1,00,000 Koreans visit India and half that number of Indians go to Korea.

The Tagore connection

In the morning, Ms. Patil garlanded a bust of Rabindranath Tagore, installed at a busy road junction here earlier this year and unveiled in May by Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. A verse written by the poet about Koreans being lamp-bearers of Asia is fondly remembered here.

A happy coincidence

The Republic of Korea is the 19th country visited by President Pratibha Devisingh Patil since she took the oath of office exactly four years ago on July 25 and coincidentally, both she and Korean President Lee Myung-bak celebrate their birthdays on December 19.

It was on July 25 last year that the Rashtrapati Bhavan became the first urban habitat in the country to get ISO 14001 certification.

Rashtrapati Bhavan officials travelling with her say the President has taken a keen interest in ensuring that the Rashtrapati Bhavan estate becomes a model of environment conservation. From water harvesting and boosting groundwater to conserving energy, the President has led the way.