Why The India-Sri Lanka Nuclear Deal Is A Good Sign

16/02/2015 11:42 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena, left, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave during a photo opportunity in New Delhi, India, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Sri Lanka's new leader is underlining India's importance as a regional ally by making it his first official foreign destination as president, following years of uneasy relations with New Delhi and international pressure to speed up post-civil war reconciliation efforts at home. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

NEW DELHI: India and Sri Lanka on Monday announced a bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation, a move that was stuck for years under the previous government headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa. The announcement comes weeks after a "breakthrough" in India's nuclear deal with the US.

In his maiden overseas visit, newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena chose to visit India with his wife. He met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the two governments have signed four agreements in this trip, which will likely foster better relations between the two countries which have a long and chequered history.

"President Sirisena and I had excellent discussions today on our bilateral relations and international issues," said Modi in a statement today. "President and I are committed to unlock the vast potential of our economic cooperation."

The civil nuclear deal with India is a first for Sri Lanka, which is yet to have such an agreement with any other country. "The bilateral agreement on civil nuclear cooperation is yet another demonstration of our mutual trust," said Modi. "It opens new avenues for cooperation, including in areas like agriculture and healthcare."

The two countries have decided to transfer and exchange knowledge, share their resources, help in training and building capacity for peaceful use of nuclear energy, work towards nuclear safety and environmental protection.

This is a good sign for healthy ties between the two countries, especially given India's growing fear of China's proximity to Sri Lanka, which is perceived as a security threat for New Delhi.

Though the new Sri Lankan government has gone back and forth on the decision to allow an over a billion dollar Chinese project to build a port city, it is now likely that it will be go ahead with the project. Sri Lanka's foreign minister is likely to visit China later this month.

Modi's bilateral talk with Sirisena comes at a key moment. He is expected to visit Sri Lanka in March. Here are some of the other key takeaways from the talks between Modi and Sirisena.

1. India is Sri Lanka's largest trading partner. Modi has told Sirisena that India was ready "to promote greater flow of Indian investments and tourists into Sri Lanka." The Commerce Secretaries from both countries will meet soon to review their bilateral commercial relations.

2. India will help Sri Lanka with development, including in the area of infrastructure.

3. The two countries will improve air and sea connectivity between them.

4. Sri Lanka and India will expand their defence and security cooperation.

5. India has signed a memorandum of understanding with Sri Lanka on cooperation in agriculture.

6. The fishermen's associations of both countries will meet to solve long-standing issues of maritime violation and detentions that take place regularly.

7. The two countries signed a three year agreement on "Programme of Cultural Cooperation" today to nurture cultural ties and promote contacts between people, said Modi.

8. Sri Lanka is now part of the Nalanda University, an international project to revive the ancient centre of learning in Bihar.

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