Sale of uranium to India a problem: McCarthy

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New Delhi, Jan 22: The Australian Government will take a decision on the sale of uranium to India after it completes all formalities regarding the Indo-US nuclear deal, Australian High Commissioner John McCarthty said today.

The sale was a difficult proposition and his government was yet to decide on the matter, Mr McCarthty said. ''The 123 agreement is dependent on a number of factors like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approval, approval from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), a consent from the US Congress and the domestic political situation in India agreeing to the substance of the deal,'' Mr McCarthy added. After a broad-based template for India-specific safeguards with IAEA, the US will initiate talks with 45-member NSG for getting exemptions for India to start nuclear commerce. After this the deal, enabling 123 Agreement, will again go to the US Congress for a vote.

When Prime Minister's envoy Shyam Saran was in Australia, we had conveyed to him that the Australian Government was yet to decide on its position, said Mr McCarthy.

''Our position is still to be considered by the ministers. The former Prime Minister John Howard had then given his consent to the sale of uranium to India, but this is not the view of the Labour Party,'' he added.

The High Commissioner said any decision will depend on the 123 process going through, the need for a change in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Australian government's view of a change in policy regime.

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith on January 16 told former Foreign Secretary Mr Saran that Canberra would not sell uranium to New Delhi unless it signs NPT.

Mr McCarthy said it was difficult to say if the 123 Agreement will materialise, but is proceeding slower than what people had hoped for.

Australia possesses about 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports the nuclear fuel to 36 countries.

Under the NPT, only countries that detonated atomic devices before the treaty was drawn up in 1967 -- the US, Russia, Britain, France and China -- can be members of the nuclear weapons club.

There are 184 other countries who are party to the NPT. Only three nations besides India have not signed the treaty -- Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

''I am sure this deal will make a positive difference to the relation of India and Australia but our stand in unequivocal.

Nuclear is a big issue and more so with the Labour party,'' the High Commissioner said.

However, Mr McCarthy said the political dynamism can change and, in the long term, such a deal will be a plus to the relationship between the two countries.

''The government has a very clear policy in the contentious issue and it does not mean we like India any less or consider it less important. We are attaching huge amount of significance to India but the NPT is a problem for us,'' Mr McCarthy said.

On the restructuring of the NPT to accommodate countries like India, Mr McCarthy said a change in the architecture of the NPT has been advocated by the US and counties in Europe. However, he had not come across such views in Australia.

In the event of a discussion of the multi-lateral agreement like the NPT, Australia will like to play an active role, he said.

''India has a very good track record of non-proliferation, but a party which takes the nuclear policy seriously, it becomes difficult to change,'' Mr McCarthy added.

UNI

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