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India, Brazil, South Africa to focus on defence cooperation

By Our Diplomatic Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 3. The Defence Ministers of India, Brazil and South Africa agreed to set up a separate dialogue mechanism on defence issues during their February meeting in Pretoria, the Foreign Secretary, Shashank, said on Tuesday.

Briefing presspersons on a two-day meeting of the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum of Foreign Ministers that begins on Thursday, Mr. Shashank said that some "niche areas" could be identified for defence cooperation.

He, however, made it clear that the Pretoria meeting was the first and the initial focus could be on bilateral defence cooperation between the three countries.

Mr. Shashank reiterated that India and Brazil had decided to support each other as candidates for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. This issue had not been discussed with South Africa, which took a larger African view on U.N. reforms.

Asked whether countries such as China could become part of the IBSA Dialogue Forum as Beijing was a key player in the G-20 developing countries' perspective on trade negotiations, the Foreign Secretary stressed that the IBSA was not an exclusive forum.

For instance, he said that an anti-poverty "trust fund," likely to be made functional during the current meeting, was being created under the aegis of the United Nations Development Programme, and was not exclusive.

According to Mr. Shashank, the objective of the forum was to make globalisation a "positive force" that would benefit developing countries.

Pointing to the extensive nature of contacts between the IBSA countries in recent months, Mr. Shashank said the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, had met in June 2003 on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Evian, France.

In the same month, Foreign Ministers of the three countries met in Brasilia to set up the IBSA Dialogue Forum, whose first meeting will take place on Thursday. Soon after, the three heads of State/Government and their Foreign Ministers met separately on the sidelines of the United Nations' General Assembly in New York.

Mr. Mbeki paid a State visit to India in October 2003, and the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, came in the same month. On the Republic Day this year, Mr. Lula was the chief guest at the celebrations. According to Mr. Shashank, senior officials of the three countries had met recently in Brasilia to prepare for the meeting.

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