TOKYO, Dec 18, 2008 (AFP) - Japan and Australia held talks Thursday on stepping up security and diplomatic cooperation despite a dispute between the Pacific allies over whaling.
The two countries will sign a pact on expanding security cooperation, including on working together in disaster prevention and fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation, a Japanese defence official said.
Australia's foreign affairs and defence ministers were in Japan for the second so-called "two-plus-two" meeting since the nations signed a security pact in March 2007.
The pact was the first for officially pacifist Japan outside of its military alliance with the United States. For Australia, it was also the first security framework other than its alliances with Britain and the United States.
But relations have been shakier since Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took over in November last year.
The centre-left leader has taken a tough line against Japan's Antarctic whaling, which is widely opposed in Australia, and sought to build ties with Japan's sometime rival China.
A Japanese foreign ministry official said Thursday's accord would show a return to closer cooperation.
"Japan and Australia have talked about a new way of security cooperation since the Rudd government started," the official said on condition of anonymity, calling the deal "a milestone in how to take the next step forward."
Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada and his Australian counterpart Joel Fitzgibbon plan to sign the accord on security cooperation.
Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone and Australia's Stephen Smith were expected to discuss a variety of issues, likely including whaling, the foreign ministry official said.
In Australia, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Thursday that Canberra was considering legal action against Japan over its whaling.
Japan says whaling is part of its culture but Australia says it is cruel and hurts its vibrant whale-watching industry.