M A I N   N E W S

Australia set to export uranium to India
Ruling Labour Party votes in favour of lifting decades-old ban 
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 4
Even as it faces a plethora of domestic problems, the Manmohan Singh government added another feather to its cap on the foreign policy front today when the ruling Australian Labour Party (ALP) approved a plan to lift the decades-old ban on the sale of uranium to India.

This move, piloted by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, paves the way for talks between the two countries on a bilateral nuclear agreement, thus removing a major irritant in the relationship between the two countries.

All these years Australia had taken the stand that it would not sell uranium to India or any other country, which is not a signatory to the NPT( Non Proliferation Treaty). New Delhi kept on pushing successive governments in Australia to have a re-look at the policy, particularly after India was granted a nuclear waiver by the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) in September 2008. Finally, Gillard last month publicly stated that it no longer made any sense to deny the metal to India. Despite objections from her own party, she promised to take the proposal to the ALP’s conference.

After a heated discussion, 206 members on Sunday voted in favour of lifting the ban while 185 voted against it. Gillard, while moving the motion, said approving the plan would boost trade and enhance Australia's relationship with India. "We are at the right time in the history of the world to seize a new era of opportunity in this, the Asian century," she said.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who was in New Delhi yesterday, had also supported the move by his country's government to lift the ban on uranium sale to India, saying he would have pursued the same policy had his government been re-elected in 2007.

Australia, which possesses nearly 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, already sells the metal to the US, China, Japan and Taiwan.

External Affairs Minister SM Krishna welcomed the move saying it will help India generate more power. “Bilateral cooperation in the energy sector is one of the important facets of our ties with Australia,” said Krishna. Sources said the credit for bringing about a policy change by Australia should go the Prime Minister to a large extent. Manmohan Singh had done some plain-speaking with his Australian counterpart on the uranium sale issue when the two met on the margins of the G-20 Summit in Cannes early last month. In fact, he had also not visited Perth in October to attend the Commonwealth Summit at which Vice-President Hamid Ansari led the Indian delegation. Newspapers in Australia had reported that Singh avoided visiting Down Under to register his protest over the continued denial of uranium to India to generate electricity.

US President Barack Obama also appears to have played some role in nudging Australia to overturn its policy. During his recent visit to Australia, Obama backed Gillard’s plans to sell uranium to India, saying it seemed to be compatible with International laws and the NPT.

The ALP’s decision may not go down well with Pakistan. The Pakistan High Commissioner to Australia was recently quoted as saying in the media that any decision to sell uranium to India might inflame tensions between the two South Asian countries. He was of the view that any decision that Australia took should be fair and non-discriminatory since Pakistan too was not a signatory to the NPT like India.





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