Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has praised Julia Gillard's efforts in reversing Labor's ban on uranium exports as the two leaders gave the go-ahead to start negotiations on a nuclear safeguards agreement.
The pair met as the centrepiece of Ms Gillard's three-day state visit to New Delhi, Dr Singh also telling his Australian counterpart that India appreciated the steps her government had taken to address the issue of violence against Indian students in Australia, “which have had a salutary effect”.
In a symbolic mark of the closer relationship the two countries are seeking to develop, Ms Gillard and Dr Singh agreed on annual Prime Ministerial meetings, most likely at regional summits.
Dr Singh emphasised that India saw the removal of the uranium ban, and the resolution of the student violence issue as crucial to the development of the relationship.
He said Ms Gillard's visit was “bound to open a new chapter in India-Australia relations”.
Leaving for home late last night, Ms Gillard told a press conference she believed the irritants in the relationship had been dealt with and that she did not believe there were "any outstanding obstacles.”
Ms Gillard formally renewed Australia's invitation for Dr Singh to visit Australia – an Indian Prime Minister hasn't set foot on Australian soil for 26 years - but he appears unlikely to come, given his age and international commitments.
Lingering resentment over the uranium ban kept Dr Singh from CHOGM last year, and a planned trip by the 80-year-old for this year was abandoned amid domestic political turmoil.
In paying tribute to Ms Gillard's efforts, Dr Singh said “under Prime Minister Gillard, the Australian Labor Party has articulated a new policy on uranium sales to India. This is recognition of India's energy needs as well as of our record and credentials.
“I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard India's appreciation of this development.”
Ms Gillard said last night that formal negotiations on a nuclear safeguards agreement, which would allow Australian uranium to be exported to India, “can begin now”. But she has made it clear that it will take a year or two, at least, for any agreement to be finalised, and for exports to begin.
India's nuclear industry has been fiercely criticised by the country's auditor-general, who found it was dangerously unsafe, disorganised, and, in many cases, completely unregulated.
During her three-day visit, which ended with a state dinner last night, Ms Gillard has pushed hard for closer economic ties with India. She has emphasised a vast market opening up in the country, in particular its rapidly-expanding middle class, that will offer huge potential for selling Australia commodities, goods and services.
Ms Gillard has also promoted closer defence ties and more people-to-people contacts.
During her visit she announced Sachin Tendulkar would be made a member of the Order of Australia, generating enormous publicity for her visit in India.
Ms Gillard said she was “delighted” that she and Dr Singh had been able to agree on a number of very important measures, including concluding memorandums of understanding on wool, student mobility and welfare, co-operation in civil space science, technology and education and skills.
The memorandum on student mobility will help students with qualifications from one country have them recognised in the other.