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India and Japan Thursday invigorated their strategic partnership in the context of a rising Asia and agreed to push for an early bilateral free trade pact, cooperate in maritime security and hold their first energy dialogue that will also include nuclear energy.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso launched the first ministerial strategic dialogue in Tokyo by discussing a broad range of bilateral, regional and international issues, including terrorism, maritime security, the UN reforms, civil nuclear energy and cooperating against weapons of mass destruction.

In his discussions with Aso and his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Mukherjee sought Japan’s support for global civilian nuclear cooperation in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which Tokyo is an influential member, by stressing the importance of nuclear energy for the fast-growing Indian economy.

Japan, which has special sensitivity on the nuclear issue as it was the only country to be attacked by nuclear weapons, indicated that it will explore ‘forward-looking approaches’ with India over nuclear energy, but said that it was yet to make up mind over it, diplomatic sources said here.
Both Abe and Aso, however, conveyed that Tokyo would wait for New Delhi to conclude safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency – and finalise bilateral civil nuclear cooperation pact with the US before deciding on its stand in the NSG, the sources said here.

During the 40-minute discussions with Abe, Mukherjee also discussed ‘follow-up actions’ on a slew of decisions taken during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo in December to intensify strategic and business ties between the Asian giants.

Nuclear energy will also figure in the energy dialogue the two sides will launch in Tokyo next month.

Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia will visit Japan in April to launch this dialogue. Five working groups on electricity and power generation, energy efficiency, coal, renewable energy and petroleum and natural gas will be established to identify specific projects for cooperation.

Both Mukherjee, who began his three-day visit to Tokyo Wednesday, and Aso stressed on directing burgeoning India-Japan partnership to achieve peace and stability in Asia and by working for the larger Asian integration by linking South Asia and Southeast Asia.

‘They reached a common understanding that India and Japan have a responsibility for responding to regional and global challenges, and must play an active role in the promotion of peace and stability in Asia and the world at large,’ said a joint press statement.

The statement was given to the media at the end of Mukherjee’s talks with Abe, Aso, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki and other senior ministers and officials.

The decision to establish the ministerial strategic dialogue was taken during Manmohan Singh’s Tokyo visit.

India-Japan strategic ties have, however, a solid economic core. India and Japan will hold the second meeting of their joint task force next month to push negotiations on a comprehensive economic partnership agreement that will place their burgeoning economic ties on a new plane.

India and Japan have also decided to push high technology trade with the two sides agreeing to hold the first round of a bilateral mechanism in May.

Mukherjee also welcomed Japan’s presence as an observer at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – summit to be held here April 3-4. Aso will represent Japan at this summit.

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