Antony in Australia; holds talks on defence cooperation

Canberra/New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) Defence Minister A.K. Antony, visiting Australia, met his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith over two days to discuss shared strategic and security interests, including maritime security and bilateral defence cooperation.

Both ministers issued a joint statement Wednesday after talks in Perth and in Canberra. Antony’s visit is the first ever official visit by an Indian defence minister to Australia.

Speaking at a reception hosted in his honour at Perth, Antony said the defence cooperation between India and Australia has increased substantially in the last few years. He said: “India values its strategic partnership with Australia and we are committed to further strengthen our bilateral relations in various areas including defence.”

Referring to the Indian Ocean Region, Antony said: “It is critical to our maritime interests. India’s economic development is dependent on maritime trade. The security of shipping along with sea lanes is of vital interest to us.”

According to a statement, Antony and Smith exchanged ideas concerning regional and international security as well as defence cooperation and exchanges between Australia and India. Both sides agreed to continue to contribute to the peace, stability and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and to promote cooperation in the Indian Ocean region, according to the joint statement.

Both took note of the progress made in defence cooperation, in accordance with the MoU on defence cooperation inked in 2006, the joint declaration on security cooperation issued in 2009 and the joint statement issued during Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s visit to India in 2012, the joint statement said.

The ministers “took note of the growing cooperation between the navies of both countries”.

Antony accepted Smith’s invitation for the participation of Indian naval ships in the International Fleet Review to be held in Sydney in October this year.

Both sides acknowledged that maritime security and freedom of navigation in accordance with principles of international law is critical for the growth and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions.

They agreed to continue consultations and cooperation on issues concerning the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions both bilaterally and multilaterally, including through various like the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus and the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).

Both countries are already cooperating through the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which Australia will chair next year, along with hosting the IONS Conclave of Chiefs in Perth in March 2014, and the IOR-ARC of which India is currently chair and Australia the next chair.

The Ministers agreed that efforts to promote cooperation between the defence establishments should continue.

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