Australia-India Uranium Deal Under Election CloudPublished by MAC on 2007-08-16
Australia-India Uranium Deal Under Election Cloud
16th August 2007
CANBERRA - Australia has ended a ban on uranium sales to India but exports may never take place with the resurgent Labor opposition promising to block a deal if it wins looming national elections.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer on Tuesday night convinced cabinet security colleagues to reverse a policy of selling the nuclear fuel only to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories.
Downer said exports to India, which has not signed the NPT, were "a bit down the track". But Labor said it was impossible to lock in a safeguards framework with New Delhi ahead of Australian elections tipped for early November.
"There isn't going to be any deal before the election. We won't be continuing the negotiation if we win," the office of Labor Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland told Reuters.
Labor is well ahead of the government in pre-election polls pointing to a landslide government loss and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd on Wednesday said selling uranium to India was wrong.
"This is a significant breach from the consensus of Australian governments in the past. Now we have a government of Australia pulling the rug from under the NPT," Rudd said.
Australia has 40 percent of the world's known reserves of uranium and is a major exporter of the material. India has been lobbying Canberra for access to it after an India-US nuclear deal was agreed in principle two years ago.
Under Australia's proposals, nuclear inspectors would be allowed to check that uranium sold to energy-hungry India was used only for peaceful purposes and ensure none was diverted for nuclear weapons or defence use.
Prime Minister John Howard would contact his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh to explain the conditions of the proposed export deal before officially announcing the agreement, the Australian newspaper said.
The Australian Greens said Canberra's proposed conditions were a farce and yellowcake exports to India would fuel only cross-border instability with Pakistan and China.
"It will also promote the building of nuclear weapons and rockets by Pakistan, and across the border we're giving uranium to China and to Russia," Greens Senator Bob Brown said.
Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for A$250 million ($208 million) worth of uranium exports to Beijing.
Howard flagged the shift in March, calling India a "very responsible country" with growing relations with Australia.
Australia exports uranium to 36 countries, but only sells to countries that have signed the NPT, and only when Canberra has a separate safeguards agreement over the use of the uranium.
Before export negotiations with Australia can begin, India needs approval of its safeguards plans by UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and ratification of its nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.
Downer has said the fact India already had nuclear weapons meant proliferation risks were smaller. India is also a member along with Australia of the AP6 group of countries looking at nuclear energy to combat global warming.
Downer also ruled out exports to Pakistan, whose Minister for Religious Affairs Ejaz ul-Haq two weeks ago pressed Canberra for access to yellowcake.
"Pakistan has a very poor record of proliferation," Downer said. (US$1=A$1.20)
Story by Rob Taylor
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE