'Australia yet to decide on uranium supply to India'

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New Delhi, Jan 17: Australia today clarified it was yet to take any decision on the supply of uranium to India but asserted that it was committed to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

''The NPT is not an issue in itself which will determine our attitude towards the Indo-US nuclear deal. That is a consideration we will make at an appropriate time,'' Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean told reporters on the sidelines of a function here. He was reacting to media reports that the new Australian government had categorically told Prime Minister's Special Envoy Shyam Saran during his recent visit to the country that it would be difficult to supply uranium to India as New Delhi had not signed the NPT.

Mr Crean said the Indian official had not visited Australia to change the country's stated policy stand on the nuclear issue.

''He (Mr Saran) came to Australia to explain the basis of the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement. Australia is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG), the approval of which is required once the IAEA gives its nod.'' The visiting dignitary further said that Australia's stated policy position on NPT remains unchanged.

''Our policy position is that we do not supply uranium to countries which are not signatories to the NPT. However, we are taking serious note of the representations made by Mr Saran and understand the importance of the Indo-US nuclear deal.''

Australia has 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports it to 36 countries. India has been holding talks with Canberra for access to it. Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for 220 million dollars worth of uranium exports to China, which is a signatory to the NPT.

The NPT provides civil nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge from nations not to pursue nuclear weapons. India, which became a nuclear power in 1998, has refused to sign the treaty.

Former Prime Minister John Howard of the Conservative Party had looked at India as a potential market for increasing exports.

He had informed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the decision which reversed his country's long-standing policy to supply uranium to only NPT signatories.

Mr Howard had then defended his government's decision to sell uranium to India, saying the deal was subject to strict guarantees that the fuel would be used for electricity generation only.

Mr Howard, a strong supporter of US President George Bush, had also noted that the sales would depend on implementation of a landmark civilian nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington after an India-specific safeguards agreement with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the requisite waiver by the 45-nation NSG.

However, Australia's new Labour government has reportedly reviewed the John Howard regime's decision.

UNI

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