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Howard plays down reports of uranium sales to India

Last updated on: May 11, 2006 12:44 IST

Brushing aside a media report that Australia would consider selling uranium to India, Australian Prime Minister John Howard today said there is no intention of changing the policy on selling the radioactive metal to countries which are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

An Australian newspaper reported that Canberra would consider selling uranium to India and may change its rules banning such exports to countries that have not signed the NPT.

The issue of uranium supply to India came up during discussions Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran had with an Australian foreign ministry delegation last week in New Delhi, The Australian newspaper said.

Commenting on the report, Howard told ABC Radio that 'the talks do not signal a change in Australia's policy.'

'Our policy is that we don't sell (uranium) to anybody who's not a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we currently don't have any intention of changing that,' Howard pointed out.

India has not signed the NPT, Howard said, adding the meeting was a follow-up to his visit to India in March. 'But it doesn't indicate or flag a change of policy,' he added.

The Australian Greens and Democrats have seized on reports of a meeting between Australian and Indian officials in New Delhi to discuss nuclear issues, the radio report said.

Greens Senator Christine Milne said if the deal goes ahead, it will open the door for other states that have not signed the agreement to buy Australian uranium.

'The choice is quite clear. The Howard government can undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and go ahead and export uranium to India, or it choose to be a responsible global citizen,' she said.

Earlier, The Australian newspaper said, the issue of uranium supply to India came up for discussion during a meeting Foreign Secretary Saran had with an Australian foreign ministry delegation last week in New Delhi.

The Australian delegation was led by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary David Ritchie, the report said.

It said Australia may agree to change its ban on exporting uranium to countries that have not signed NPT if there was 'suitable reciprocal movement' from India. India is not a signatory to the NPT.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson confirmed the meeting, but said details of the discussions were confidential.

However, she said 'there are no current intentions to change Australia's long-standing policy of only selling uranium to countries that are party to the nuclear NPT and with which we have a bilateral safeguards agreement.'

The newspaper, quoting Australian government sources, said Canberra would require guarantees from New Delhi as strong as those provided by China to secure uranium such as agreement to allow inspection of India's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

It said the seven-member Australian delegation's visit was decided during the trip Howard made to New Delhi and was officially intended to discuss the India-US nuclear agreement.

However, the newspaper quoted senior diplomatic sources as saying the talks went much further and moved to Australian-Indian nuclear cooperation. 'It was decided the two sides should have discussions at the export level to talk about Indian and Australian nuclear cooperation,' the sources told the newspaper.

Australia holds about a third of the world's uranium reserves.

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne
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