INTERNATIONAL

U.S. joins Japan, Australia for new strategic dialogue



P. S. Suryanarayana

India commended for agreeing to international nuclear safeguards

SINGAPORE: The United States, Australia, and Japan charted out a new track of strategic dialogue on Saturday and commended India for agreeing to place its civilian nuclear energy facilities under relevant international safeguards.

On a different plane, the three welcomed "China's constructive engagement in the [Asia-Pacific] region." U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, and their Australian counterpart Alexander Downer held their inaugural meeting, under this new framework, in Sydney.

In a statement issued after the new strategic dialogue, the three said they "recognised the importance of reinforcing [their] global partnership with India."

Common cause

Describing their new forum, at the ministerial level, as an association of "long-standing democracies and developed economies" in the Asia-Pacific region, they said their "common cause" was to "maintain stability and security globally," with a particular focus on the area in which they already operated with some degree of cooperation and coordination.

Within this overarching framework, the three "noted that India's decision to place its civilian nuclear facilities and programmes under international safeguards would be a positive step towards expansion of the reach of the international non-proliferation regime."

The "global partnership" with India, which the new forum brought into focus at this stage, relates to the dialogue that each of these three countries independently holds with New Delhi on strategic and other issues of global concern and scope. Expressing themselves on a wide range of current global issues, the U.S., Japan, and Australia "discussed the need for concerted action at the United Nations Security Council" on Iran's suspected nuclear-weapons programme.

"Grave concern" was expressed over Iran's current attitudes and the need for Teheran's compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was emphasised.

While no new ground was broken on any major issue, including Iraq and North Korea's nuclear-weapons programme, regional diplomats emphasised that China, as a rising economic and military power, was very much on the radar of the new forum.

The new ministerial caucus outlined one of its aims as that of "supporting the emergence and consolidation of democracies" in the Asia-Pacific region.

Concern over China

AP reports: They called on Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities and resume negotiations over its disputed nuclear programme.

In a joint statement following trilateral regional security talks, they also called on North Korea to unconditionally and immediately return to six-party nuclear talks.

China's Parliament last week approved a 14.7 per cent increase in its annual military budget to $35 billion.

Prior to leaving Washington last week, Ms. Rice had said the three countries must ensure that a build-up in China's military spending was ``not outsized for China's regional ambitions and interests'' sparking concern that the United States would pursue a policy of containment.