NATIONAL

Pranab to visit Japan

Pranab Mukherjee  

Amit Baruah

Discussions begun on an economic partnership agreement

Pranab to hold talks with Taro Aso, Shinzo AbeTo discuss exchanges in defence, security sectors

NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee will visit Japan from March 22 to 23, an official statement said on Thursday. "This will be his first visit to Japan since becoming External Affairs Minister in 2006."

According to the statement, the visit was part of the regular high-level exchanges between the countries. Mr. Mukherjee will hold the first-ever strategic dialogue at the level of Foreign Ministers with his counterpart Taro Aso. "[The] External Affairs Minister will also call on the Prime Minister of Japan [Shinzo Abe]."

This will be the Minister's first bilateral visit outside India's immediate neighbourhood. He has travelled essentially to South Asian nations, and paid a bilateral visit to Iran. Also, in a multilateral framework, he travelled to Cebu city in the Philippines in January.

Sources familiar with India-Japan relations said ties with Japan were developing smoothly, and described the December 2006 visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Tokyo as a major success.

Since the visit, which produced a detailed joint statement, the two sides had been engaged in implementing and fleshing out a number of points in the document, which described their relationship as a "strategic and global partnership."

The sources said discussions had begun on an economic partnership agreement, based on a joint study group report.

According to them, the countries, which had strengthened exchanges in the defence and security sector, would discuss these issues further when the Foreign Ministers meet. Some Indian Navy ships are scheduled to touch Japan in April.

On the discussions to put in place an India-Japan-United States-Australia dialogue, the sources said these were continuing; the U.S. and Australia would have to be consulted.