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Australia tells India it will not sell it uranium

Published by MAC on 2008-01-15

Australia tells India it will not sell it uranium

15th January 2008

by Rob Taylor, Reuters

CANBERRA - Australia's new Labor government told India's nuclear envoy Shyam Saran on Tuesday it would not sell uranium to New Delhi unless it signs the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), reversing a decision by the previous government.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Saran, architect of a deal with the United States to provide nuclear power aid to India while allowing it to continue nuclear weapons production, that Canberra would not agree to exports of uranium to India.

"We went into the election with a strong policy commitment we would not export uranium to nation states who are not members of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Smith said after the meeting. Labor won office in November 2007.

Saran was made special envoy for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to build international support for the Indo-U.S. pact among the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which includes Australia.

The suppliers group sets export controls governing trade of civilian nuclear material and technology to prevent exports being used to make nuclear weapons.

Saran last year convinced Australia's former conservative government to end a ban on uranium sales to India, overturning a policy of selling the fuel only to NPT signatories.

Australia's new government plans to reinstate the ban unless India agrees to sign the treaty. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year said selling uranium would pull the rug from under the NPT.

"The position that the government made clear in the run-up to the election is our position," Rudd's Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in Canberra on Tuesday.

Australia has 40 percent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports to 36 countries. India has been lobbying Canberra for access to it.

Smith, speaking later to reporters after his meeting with Saran in Perth, said the Indian envoy was not surprised by Labor's opposition to the sale of yellowcake to India.

Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for A$250 million ($225 million) worth of uranium exports to Beijing.

Singh's deal with Washington was frozen after his government was unable to convince communist coalition allies the agreement was in India's interest and would not undermine its independent foreign policy stance.

But Indian officials this week said they hoped to complete talks this month with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna as a precursor to the U.S. deal going ahead.

Under the deal, India would agree to U.N. monitoring of some of its reactors in return for nuclear power assistance from the United States. The deal must be approved by the IAEA, the U.S. Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. ($1=A$1.11) (Editing by Michael Perry and Alex Richardson)

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