Fri, May 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Australia denies India uranium sale plan

NO DEAL Both the prime minister and the foreign minister said that Canberra's stand on not selling to countries that haven't signed the non-proliferation treaty is unchanged


Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer insisted yesterday that Canberra had no plans to start selling uranium to India.

Downer also dismissed a newspaper report that officials from both countries were trying to strike an export deal.

India is keen to import Australian uranium to fuel its nuclear power reactors and appealed to Howard during his visit to New Delhi earlier this year.

But Howard's government has a long standing policy of refusing to supply countries that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and India is not a signatory.

According to a newspaper report yesterday, senior Australian diplomats met with Indian counterparts in New Delhi last week and discussed how Australia may agree to lift its ban if India agreed to strict safeguards, as China had done in a deal signed last month.

The deal with Beijing clears the way for uranium exports worth billions of dollars. In return, China, which has signed the NPT, pledged not to divert Australian nuclear fuel into its atomic weapons program.

Citing unnamed Australian government sources, the Australian newspaper said Canberra would require India to agree to inspections of its nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Our position hasn't changed," Downer told reporters yesterday. "I've checked that out with the officials, because the newspaper report surprised me, and the officials have assured me that that's not correct."

He confirmed that officials had traveled to New Delhi, but said India had made it clear it had no intention in the foreseeable future of signing the NPT. India has refused to sign the treaty, saying it restricts nuclear weapons to a few countries rather than eliminates them completely.

Australia has sent a team to India to find out more about the deal that will see New Delhi receive US nuclear technology in return for separating its military and civil nuclear operations and opening civilian plants to international inspections.

"Our policy has always been that we'd be prepared to negotiate nuclear safeguards agreements with countries that have signed up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," Downer said. "We've not indicated to the Indians any planned change to that position."

Although second to Canada in production, Australia holds 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves.

Meanwhile, Howard said in an interview with Reuters that he would seek more details on a US-India nuclear deal that was signed in March when he meets with US President George W. Bush during a visit to Washington this week.

"I will only discuss it to the extent that I will be seeking further information about the arrangement between America and India," said Howard in his office in Parliament House in Canberra.

"We are not currently disposed to change our policy in relation to selling uranium to countries that aren't party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said.

"As one of the major exporters of uranium, we remain interested in sales of uranium, subject to proper safeguards," he said.

The US-India deal would allow the US to ship nuclear technology and fuel to India, in return for international inspections and safeguards at 14 nuclear reactors designated as civilian. India's eight military facilities, however, would remain off-limits. The Bush administration is trying to secure congressional approval for the deal.

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