Monday, 15 October 2012

Australia PM to sign N-trade pact during visit to India

Australia is expected to carry out a major, and much awaited, course correction in its foreign policy by offering to negotiate sale of uranium to India during Prime Minister Julia Gillard's three-day visit to the country, starting Monday. Government sources here confirmed that Gillard's visit will see a formal announcement of negotiations between the two countries for a nuclear safeguards agreement that would allow Australia to export uranium to India.

Despite supporting the move by Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 2008 to allow India to conduct nuclear commerce, Australia continued to deny uranium to India for not having signed NPT. Now, it is all set to enter into civil nuclear cooperation with India, with the core of this cooperation being the safeguards agreement that will allow Australia to bypass opposition from various groups, which are opposing the Labor government's decision to overturn the ban on uranium sale to India.

The uranium agreement with Australia, apart from ensuring a steady supply of the yellowcake, will also have great symbolic significance for India as it will mark yet another international `acceptance' of its nuclear weapons. ``The negotiations should start once their internal processes are complete; we expect the Australian government to take the process further ahead,'' said MEA official spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin.

Australians are likely to insist on regular reports from Indian authorities about how uranium is used and the state in which it is stored. Gillard, however, was instrumental in Labor's decision to reverse the ban. The agreement is likely to include the same provisions as NPT meant to prevent proliferation, which India has always agreed in principle despite not having signed the treaty because it allows only five countries to possess nuclear weapons.

The final agreement is likely to take some time though as the negotiations are expected to be lengthy. While this will be her second official visit to India, it will be the first as the PM. According to Indian officials, the initiative for the visit came from Gillard herself, who appears keen on mending ties with New Delhi despite the ``snub" from her counterpart Manmohan Singh last year when he pulled out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth. In fact, the last Indian PM to have visited Australia was Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

Australian foreign minister Bob Carr said recently that Canberra needed the agreement to be able to supply uranium to India and that it was working New Delhi India to finalize it. "The relationship's in good working order and the thing the Indians wanted out of us most was a decision to sell them uranium for the peaceful development of nuclear power which is a major strategic goal for them and I think an environmental plus for the planet," he was quoted as having said.

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