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Gillard`s India visit more than successful: Oz analysts, media

The just-concluded India visit of Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on Thursday hailed by Australian analysts and media as more than successful.

Melbourne: The just-concluded India visit of Prime Minister Julia Gillard was on Thursday hailed by Australian analysts and media as ‘more than successful’ despite some apprehensions here over the country`s decision to sell uranium to the Asian giant.

Gillard, during her meeting with her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh yesterday in New Delhi, announced to launch negotiations for a civil nuclear pact.

The two leaders also agreed to hold annual meetings at the summit level to launch a Ministerial-level Dialogue on Energy Security, start negotiations for an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons, apart from inking four pacts.

While Gillard`s three-day maiden visit that ended last night is being seen as a major plank in her administration`s foreign policy platform, some analysts say that the ties with India needed more focus and that Australia must make sure that India adopts the best safety standards in handling uranium.

According to Rory Medcalf, director of International Security Programme at the Lowy Institute, said Gillard`s visit has been "more than successful and that it has add new levels of trust and mutual respect to the relationship".

"It is clear that each country now respect the other as a strategic partner in their shared Indo-Pacific region. And the prime minister`s declaration has now given guidance to the two militaries to exercise more together including at sea," said Medcalf.

Christopher Kremmer of Australia India Institute said Gillard`s trip was "extremely significant" from various aspects.

"At domestic level it marks a return to sort of policy issues... And regional dimension is it marks what will be seen as Gillard`s major foreign policy achievement of her Prime Ministership in her first term," he was quoted as saying by ABC News.

Commenting on the negotiations over nuclear safeguard deal which the two sides announced to begin, Kremmer said India in the past has been able to avoid some of the major nuclear disaster like in Japan and other countries but being a nuclear weapon state, safeguards were absolutely important.

"The process of negotiations which the Prime Minister will announce is I think going to tell us a lot about the degree of political will in New Delhi to better relations with Australia," Kremmer said.

Echoing similar sentiments, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said, "It’s the first visit since Labor party reversed the uranium sale. Its moved beyond that political obstacle." It said from Australian side it was welcoming move to see Prime Minister Singh`s latest move regarding FDIs.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece in `The Age` said if the closer relationship was predicated on sales of uranium or exhibition matches of cricket, then Australia would be missing a huge opportunity... Successive Australian governments have tended to prioritise two regional relationships ahead of India, namely those of Indonesia and China.

"India, though, warrants more of our attention than occasional meetings at regional forums," The Age said.

"There should be no sales of Australian uranium to India unless every aspect of uranium handling - from licensing of facilities to safe disposal - is first class."

"Until there is credible and indisputable evidence that India`s nuclear regulator is able to act independently and meets world`s best practices, and that the regulator is vitally committed to staying that way, not a single load of uranium should leave Australia`s shores for India," it added.

However, Kremmer opined that the latest move negotiating civil safeguard deal on selling uranium can go further if Australia was to treat India with same platform like it has for other countries.

"It does not impose any special qualification on India.. India feel it should be treated in similar way like other countries to which Australia sells uranium," he said.

"It does not want to see any special standards imposed just because it’s not a member of Nuclear Proliferation treaty," Kremmer said adding it’s been a matter of trust and in the sense that whole relationship has been taken hostage to this uranium issue.

Holding a different view, Greens leader Christine Milne said Gillard would be ‘talking up’ uranium sales during her diplomatic visit to appease Indian leaders. "Instead Gillard should be pledging assistance to India`s renewable energy sector."

Greens political party nuclear policy spokesman Scott Ludlam said selling uranium to India would be a "mistake".

"I`m extremely concerned that Australian uranium will find itself one way or another fuelling a sub-continental arms race," he said.

Australia India Institute`s director Amitabh Mattoo said, "For India, being treated as a pariah while China was indulged was clearly unacceptable. That issue of trust has now been resolved, which brings us back to Gillard`s `passage to India` and Australia`s relations with it."


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