KUALA LUMPUR: The Johor Bahru port limits issue between Singapore and Malaysia can be resolved more quickly compared to the issue over water, Malaysia's Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Thursday (Feb 21).
He mentioned eight issues concerning both countries, including the Instrument Landing System procedures for Seletar Airport, as well as the 1974 airspace agreement.
One or two of those issues have the potential to be resolved in the near future, he said.
“For the moment, I see the Johor Bahru port limits issue as being one of the eight involving relations between Malaysia and Singapore which can be resolved first," the minister told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
“I believe there will be good relations with Singapore and the discussions will be smooth," he added. "On the port limits, it can be resolved in the near future compared to the water issue, which I expect to take more time as it is quite complicated."
The two countries are locked in a maritime dispute sparked by Malaysia's unilateral decision to extend the Johor Bahru port limits last October, and the subsequent intrusion of Malaysian government vessels in Singapore waters.
READ: Singapore-Malaysia bilateral issues: Both sides must act in good faith, says Vivian Balakrishnan
Singapore lodged a "strong protest" with the Malaysian government, saying its neighbour's extended port limits had encroached into Singapore's territorial waters off Tuas.
According to Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) on Tuesday, the attorneys-general of Singapore and Malaysia met in December last year for water talks, but discussions were "overshadowed" by the maritime and airspace issues.
READ: Singapore, Malaysia met in December for water talks but discussions 'overshadowed by new issues': MFA
"ENCOURAGING" TALKS ON WATER: MALAYSIA FM
Still, Mr Saifuddin said talks on the 1962 Water Agreement between Singapore and Malaysia are on a positive note, and that the government is optimistic about it even though more time is needed.
What is most important is that the government had made progress and held discussions with Singapore, he added.
“On the water issue, I and the Singapore foreign minister are looking for a suitable date in the near future to meet and hold further discussions," said the Malaysian minister. "The willingness of the Republic is very encouraging, compared to before when there was no progress."
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wants to review the terms of the water agreement, saying last June that the price of raw water sold to Singapore is "ridiculous".
The 1962 Water Agreement, which expires in 2061, entitles Singapore to draw up to 250 million gallons a day (mgd) of water from the Johor River.
Singapore pays 3 sen per thousand gallons of raw water and sells treated water back to Johor at 50 sen per thousand gallons, a fraction of the cost of treating the water.
Johor is meanwhile entitled to a daily supply of treated water of up to 2 per cent or 5 mgd of the water supplied to Singapore.