Sale of uranium not to affect ties with India : Australia

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Sydney, Jan 20 (UNI) The ruling Labour party's policy on uranium sales to India will not affect Australian efforts to bolster ties with New Delhi, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has said.

Mr Smith said forging stronger ties with ''the economic powerhouse'' was one of the top foreign policy priorities of the Kevin Rudd government.

But, he cautioned, it would not mean that Australia had any intention to change its policy of selling uranium to only countries who are signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

''Australia's relationship with India and further progress in that relationship does not depend on uranium sales,'' Mr Smith was quoted by the AAP as saying.

''India is aware of the government's policy to supply uranium only to countries which are members of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty,'' he said.

India is still in the process of seeking international approval for the Indo-US nuclear deal. The agreement would give India access to US nuclear fuel and technology in exchange for opening its civilian reactors to international inspections.

The former Howard government agreed in-principle to sell uranium to India, based upon the agreement the US. The deal was yet to be approved the powerful 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), of which Australia is also a member, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Uranium-rich Australia has 40 per cent of the world's yellowcake supplies.

Mr Smith, however, added: ''The Australian government has not come to a concluded view on (this matter).'' Asserting his government's resolve to have enhanced economic ties with India, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan said ''Australia has a golden opportunity to work more closely with India to pursue our common economic interests.'' ''I want to explore ways to institute closer ties between the Indian Ministry of Finance and the Commonwealth Treasury,'' he was quoted by the Sunday Age as saying.

''Part of the Rudd Government's mission is to modernise the economy, so modernising our relationships with key economies is a vital component of that,'' Mr Swan said.

India is Australia's fastest growing major market for both goods and services, increasing at a rate of more than 30 per cent a year. Bilateral trade in goods between India and Australia reached 11.4 billion dollars last year, of which 10.1 billion dollars were exports to India, including goods such as gold, coal, copper and wool.

UNI XC YA AS1218

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