India accepts that it cannot buy uranium from Australia without signing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Indian foreign minister said yesterday during a visit to Australia.
Indian Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee said, however, that his government wants to learn more about Australia’s proposal for an international committee to recommend changes to the 28-year-old treaty.
Mukherjee said after meeting Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith that he did not come to Australia to try to change the ruling Labor Party’s policy on uranium sales.
“We are aware of the position of the Labor Party in Australia,” he told reporters at a joint news conference with Smith. “Australia’s commitment to nonproliferation is firm and we respect that.”
Despite their differences on the uranium issue, both ministers declared their commitments to developing closer relations between their countries. They said they hoped to complete a feasibility study on the potential for a free trade agreement this year.
“There may be divergences of views in certain areas, but that divergence of views need not stand in the way of convergence of mutual interests and expanding on that,” Mukherjee said.
In August last year, the former Australian government began negotiating a uranium trade pact with India to help fuel India’s burgeoning need for energy.
Those negotiations marked a major policy shift for Australia, which demands that all its uranium customers ratify the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and ensure that radioactive material is not put to military use or passed to a third country.
Former Australian prime minister John Howard argued that his country — which holds 40 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves — could increase export earnings while helping India reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd defeated Howard’s government in November elections and reaffirmed the ban on uranium exports to India.
Earlier this month, however, Rudd announced the formation of a committee which he hopes other countries will join to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by the end of next year.
Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, who was appointed chairman of the committee, said the world might need a new nuclear weapons treaty that countries such as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea would be willing to join.
Yesterday’s meeting was the Australian and Indian foreign ministers’ first since 2005. It will be followed by another in September, when Smith visits New Delhi.
Smith later told Parliament that Australia had undervalued India, a rapidly growing market for Australian minerals and energy, for the past 30 years.
Also yesterday, the two ministers signed extradition and cooperation treaties aimed at helping their countries combat terrorism and organized crime.
Australia and India have also agreed to cooperate more closely on security, with their defense chiefs to meet annually.
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