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Australian signals lifting uranium ban, India hails move

Tuesday November 15, 2011 12:48:18 PM, IANS

Bangalore/Melbourne: In a dramatic policy shift, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has signalled a plan to lift a long-standing ban on uranium sales to India. New Delhi quickly hailed the move, saying it was a recognition of its impeccable non-proliferation credentials.

In a breakthrough for India's civil nuclear initiative, Gillard wrote a column in leading Australian dailies in which she pushed for lifting an embargo that has shadowed relations with the world's biggest democracy, a move that is also set to further open up the Indian market for Australian companies.

"We must, of course, expect of India the same standards we do of all countries for uranium export - strict adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency arrangements and strong bilateral and transparency measures which will provide assurances our uranium will be used only for peaceful purposes," Gillard said in the Sydney Morning Herald.

For the past four years, the Labour government has linked uranium exports to India signing the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

New Delhi refuses to sign the NPT as it considers it discriminatory and a ploy to deprive it of its nuclear deterrence.

In the end, however, stronger relations with a democratic India seem to have won the day.

"It is time for (ruling) Labor to modernise our platform and enable us to strengthen our connection with dynamic, democratic India," Gillard declared in an article published in The Age newspaper Tuesday.

India, which has been pressing Australia to lift the ban since the Nuclear Suppliers Group opened its doors for global nuclear commerce in September 2008, was quick to hail the new initiative that seeks to remove the last diplomatic thorn in bilateral relations.

"We understand that Julia Gillard proposes to seek a change in the ruling Labour Party's policy on sale of uranium to India in recognition of our energy needs, the impeccable record of our non-proliferation treaty (NPT) accord and strategic partnership on this," Krishna told reporters in Bangalore Tuesday.

Welcoming the initiative, Krishna said India attached great importance to its relations with Australia, which are growing across the board.

"Energy is one of the key areas of our bilateral cooperation," Krishna said on the margins of the 11th council of ministers of the Indian Ocean Rim Association of Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), which got underway in Bangalore.

The reversal in Canberra's stand appears to have come after some straight talk between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gillard on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Cannes early this month.

The uranium sale has been a point in India's relations with Australia for some time. Although New Delhi denied it, many leading Australian dailies attributed Manmohan Singh's absence from the Commonwealth summit in Perth last month as a way of conveying its annoyance with Canberra on the uranium issue.

However, Gillard's plan to lift the ban is headed for some domestic hurdles as the left-wing parties have already trained guns on her.

"This has come out of the blue," Labor Senator Doug Cameron told ABC Radio Tuesday. Senator Cameron, who is the convener of the left-wing faction, reminded that Australia had forced China to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) before allowing uranium sales.

"These are the tests that we laid out, and we're changing those tests for India," he added.

Both the Left faction and coalition partner Green Party were, however, expected to criticise Gillard's plan to revisit, what has been seen by the Australian media and political commentators for very long as an anachronistic ban on uranium sales to India for nuclear power generation.

Australian Greens Party head Bob Brown has also criticised Gillard's plan to lift the uranium export ban with a warning that it would lead to the "nuclear arms race".

The Australian prime minister has, however, received support from her cabinet colleagues as Trade Minister Craig Emerson advocated selling uranium to India to boost Australian jobs.





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