Canberra, June 23 : Australia said on Monday it would consider uranium sales to India if New Delhi was able to strike a landmark nuclear pact with the United States and satisfy international safeguards concerns.
The new centre-left Labor government was closely watching so-called "123" negotiations, although it would not sell yellowcake to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) members, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said after meeting his Indian counterpart Pranab Mukherjee in Canberra.
"If and when the 123 Agreement gets to either International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Australia will then give consideration to what its attitude to that agreement is," Smith told reporters.
Australia has 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports to 36 countries. India has been lobbying Canberra for access to it.
India is trying to convince the 45-member NSG, including Australia, to back a waiver on trade with non-NPT members to allow sale of nuclear material, as well as strike agreement with the IAEA on safeguards.
"We will bear in mind the view and the arguments, and the importance of the issue to India, when we come to that consideration. And the same occurs to the United States, I have made the same point to the United States administration. But if and the 123 agreement comes before either the Nuclear Suppliers Group or the IAEA, we will give consideration to it at that point in time," Smith said, pointing to Australian backing for an NSG waiver in the case of yellowcake sales to India.
Australia and India had "good track records" on nuclear disarmament; both Smith and Mukerjee said likening the possibility of uranium exports to catching a train with no firm timetable for arrival.
"As the honourable Minister, Smith, has very gladly pointed out that I am really busy in India in some domestic politics and that is in respect of implementing the 123 agreement with the USA... it is an exercise to look at a train which has no possibility of when it will arrive at the platform, nobody knows, it is just like that. Therefore let the process be completed when we require uranium, naturally if the entire process is completed, the nuclear trade with India is permissible as per the International agreement, then and then only the question will come," Mukherjee said.
Nuclear power currently contributes three per cent of India's energy needs, growing to nine per cent by 2016 provided agreements with the United States and the suppliers groups are successful.
Smith and Mukherjee said they would work for closer Australia-India economic and security ties, signing agreements to combat terrorism, begin yearly defence and intelligence talks, and allow extradition of criminals.
"On the security and strategic front, we have just signed a couple of treaties, an extradition treaty and a mutual assistance treaty. These are a couple of practical illustrations of how we want our strategic, security, defence and counter-terrorism arrangements to be enhanced and we had a very good conversation about all these matters and you will see from the Communicae that one particular example of further practical progress in these areas is our Chief of Defence Forces to meet on an annual basis," Smith said.
With two-way trade worth 10 billion dollars in 2007, mostly gold and coal exports from Australia, Mukherjee said a report into a free trade pact would be completed by December. Both nations were also working to lift Australian resource exports to India, he said.