Indian-origin man named Australian envoy to India (Second Lead)

June 8th, 2009 - 9:50 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Sydney, June 8 (IANS) In an apparent move to placate India, Australia Monday named Indian-origin Peter Varghese, considered the country’s top spy, its next envoy to New Delhi.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Varghese - an ethnic Malayali who heads the Office of National Assessments (ONA) - will be “a very good high commissioner” for what is “a very important relationship”.

“The government wants to take relationship with India to the front rank of our bilateral relationships, and we look forward to High Commissioner Varghese pursuing good work in India on Australia’s behalf,” Smith said.

The decision comes as a spate of attacks on Indian students in Australia threatens the country’s AU $16 billion education sector, of which nearly AU $2 billion is contributed by the Indians.

The attacks, which were headline news in India for at least two weeks, resulted in New Delhi lodging a strong protest with Canberra. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called up his counterpart Kevin Rudd to express concern and seek the safety of the 90,000 Indian students in Australia.

According to the ONA website, Varghese has nearly 30 years of experience with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and has served as Australia’s envoy to Malaysia and minister (political) in Japan besides in Australian embassies in Washington and Vienna.

The ONA is an Australian intelligence agency that reports directly to the prime minister. Varghese took over as the head of ONA in 2004.

The Australia-India relationship has been growing in recent years with the two countries closely engaging in strategic and defence matters.

India is also Australia’s fastest growing export market with energy and minerals being the main drivers. It is the second largest market for education services.

The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, the country’s largest bilateral scientific research fund, has fostered increasingly close collaboration between their scientists.

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