New Delhi: India and Sri Lanka on Monday signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement which is seen as an effort by New Delhi to counter growing Chinese influence in the island nation.
This is the first such deal signed by Sri Lanka with any foreign country, reflecting the new Lankan government's pro- India approach.
The pact was signed after talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena who chose India for his maiden foreign visit after assuming charge following a bitter presidential poll.
Both the leaders also decided to expand defence and security cooperation between the two countries.
According to the nuclear deal, India will assist Sri Lanka in developing its civil nuclear energy infrastructure, including sharing of resources, training of personnel and extending expertise.
It will also facilitate cooperation in radioactive waste management and nuclear and radiological disaster mitigation and environmental protection.
India's ties with Sri Lanka had taken a hit during the rule of Sirisena's predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa as China had expanded its footprint in the country by building ports, highways and participating in other infrastructure projects.
"The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is yet another demonstration of our mutual trust. This is the first such agreement Sri Lanka has signed," Modi said in a joint press interaction with Sirisena.
Reflecting the growing momentum in ties, the Prime Minister said, "I believe that our destinies are inter-linked. Our security and prosperity are indivisible."
"We welcomed the progress in our maritime security cooperation, including in the trilateral format with the Maldives," he said.
63-year-old Sirisena, who had dethroned Rajapaksa from his 10-year rule after a bitter presidential poll, has already indicated that he wants to have a closer relationship with India.
Modi said they had "excellent discussions" on bilateral relations and international issues.
On the fishermen issue, Modi said he and the President attached the "highest importance" to it.
"It affects livelihoods on both sides. We agreed that there must be a constructive and humanitarian approach to the issue.
"We will encourage the fishermen's associations on both sides to meet again soon. They should find a solution that can be taken forward by both governments," he said.
Sources said the fishermen issue figured prominently in
They said the Sri Lankan side conveyed to Indian side that that the deep sea fishing by Indian fishermen was impacting the livelihood of Sri Lankan fishermen.
The sources said peace and reconciliation process in the island nation was also discussed in the meeting and the Sri Lankan side said as part of its outreach programme, the government was returning 1,000 acres of "unused land" to Tamil people.
The land belonging to Tamil community was taken by police.
India has been hoping that the new Lankan government will develop ties on the "foundation of genuine and effective reconciliation" creating harmony among all sections there.
India has also been pressing for implementation of 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.
Sources said both Modi and Sirisena agreed that there was vast potential for expanding economic cooperation by implementing provisions of the Free Trade Agreement signed between the two countries in 2003.
"President and I are committed to unlock the vast potential of our economic cooperation. We are pleased to be Sri Lanka's largest trading partner. I know that India enjoys a huge trade surplus. I expressed my support for a more balanced growth in trade in both directions," Modi said.
He said India was ready to promote greater flow of Indian investments and tourists into Sri Lanka.
"Our commerce secretaries will meet soon to review our bilateral commercial relations. We also intend to further improve air and sea connectivity between India and Sri Lanka," he said.
The two countries also signed three other agreements, including one on cooperation in the field of agriculture and another to enable Sri Lanka to participate in the Nalanda University Project.
The Sri Lankan President expressed happiness over the outcome of the talks and said the friendship between the two countries was not only important to each other but was significant for the region as well.
"I really appreciate Prime Minister Modi's efforts (to improve ties). Relations between the two countries will be strengthened further," he said.