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Aussie PM faces tough time over India uranium sale

Natasha Chaku in Melbourne | September 09, 2008 14:54 IST

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is likely to face tough time in maintaining his stand on not allowing uranium sales to India especially after his government favoured India's waiver at the Nuclear Supplier Group meet at Vienna [Images].

While, the Australian government still maintains its stance on not selling uranium to India, until Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's [Images] government joins the Non Proliferation Treaty, The Age reported on Tuesday,'This stance may sound like a grand contradiction.'

Writing in the paper Robert Ayson, Chief Investigator of  Australian Nuclear Choices Reasearch Council Project said, this stand would be difficult for the Rudd governmnet to keep up for long as US-India deal would help put in place a de-facto NPT treaty that is being built around India as it is welcomed as a nearly official member of the nuclear club.

Ayson said India will also have a separate safeguard arrangement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and has also agreed to separate its military and civilian nuclear facilities.

Keeping in view that India's signing NPT is impossible as the treaty does not recognise India as a nuclear weapon state and because New Delhi [Images] is unlikely to disarm anytime soon, "This might be the best chance we get," Ayson felt.

The paper also said that the Rudd governmnet would come under increasing pressure from the opposition as the previous Howard government during its last months had advocated uranium sales to India.

The opposition coaltion is now accusing the new government of missing a fine chance to improve relationship with India.
The report said Rudd government had hard choices to make as there 'May be some understandable reasons for the Rudd Government's hesitancy on uranium sales, at least for the time being.'

The paper said the reason for the reluctance could come from the Australian Labour Party's campaign in the election on the platform that the country should retain its existing policy to sell uranium only to NPT countries. 'The second reason is party political reality: Australia's [Images] involvement in uranium mining and exportation has long been a sensitive issue for the ALP. Sales to India might suggest that there are now few obstacles to the expansion of an industry that some state governments would oppose.'

'Selling uranium to India would require Rudd to stare down opponents within his own party, especially at the state level. He would get there, but it could be an ugly fight,' it added.

The report also found the process as one of the reason stating that US-India nuclear co-operation agreement still has to get approval from American Senate which, like all other US political institutions, is now preoccupied by November elections. Senate approval is the last piece of a puzzle. The difficult steps along the way included the Singh government's desperate, but eventually successful, efforts to secure support from a fractured Indian Parliament. They also included India's nuclear waiver, which a few countries (including New Zealand [Images]) resisted to the bitter end. Given all these obstacles, Rudd Government could have been excused for thinking that the process would seize up entirely before it became a live question for Australia,' it said.

But Ayson felt that the direct proliferation dangers involved in selling uranium to India are few and far between. There is every chance that India would use Australian uranium only to fuel its civilian power supply as its rapidly growing economy demands additional energy sources. Also, India is extremely unlikely to pass on nuclear material to potential proliferators.

The report said Rudd government's nod to uranium sale would represent Australia's ultimate endorsement of India's decision to challenge the non-proliferation regime. Though favouring India at NSG made Australia's stand flexible, anything more might just weaken the Rudd government's case that it is an especially strong supporter of NPT treaty, it said adding it would risk the criticism that while India may be an otherwise responsible possessor of nuclear weapons, the stage has been set for other states to join the queue.

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