Aussie PM to visit India, uranium high on agenda

January 16th, 2009 - 5:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd undertakes a three-day trip to India this month - his first after assuming office - during which New Delhi is expected to make a renewed push for uranium from Down Under. The visit will focus on enhancing economic cooperation and forming a strategic partnership between India and Australia, an official source told IANS here. Rudd is likely to fly to India Jan 28 from Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.

This will be Rudd’s first visit to India since he became the prime minister of Australia over a year ago. He will be accompanied by senior ministers, including foreign minister Stephen Smith, and top business honchos.

Rudd will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a range of bilateral and global issues, including terrorism, the global financial meltdown and the reform of global financial institutions. The visit is likely to culminate in the forging of a strategic partnership between the two countries, a source said.

The two leaders are expected to discuss issues relating to the security of the Indian Ocean that has acquired an added urgency after Pakistan-based terrorists came via the sea route to launch multiple assaults on India’s financial hub Mumbai in November last year.

The 51-year-old Australian leader is expected to reiterate Australia’s diplomatic support for India in the wake of the Mumbai atrocity that killed 179 people, including 26 foreigners. Two Australians were among those killed in the Mumbai attacks.

Rudd will come to India a couple of days after India and Kazakhstan sign a civil nuclear deal revolving around uranium supply during Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit that ends Jan 26.

Armed with an NSG waiver and four bilateral nuclear deals with the US, France, Russia and Kazakhstan, India will make a fresh pitch to persuade Australia, a member of the NSG, to sell uranium to India. Canberra currently doesn’t allow this for countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

With a strong domestic anti-nuclear constituency in mind, the Labour government of Kevin Rudd has adopted a hawkish posture on non-proliferation issues and is reluctant to sell uranium to India.

However, there have been indications of a slight thawing after the 45-nation global nuclear cartel rewrote its rules in September last year that allowed India to resume nuclear commerce with the NSG countries. Australia has nearly 40 percent of the world’s known uranium deposits.

The two countries have, however, decided not to let the uranium issue come in the way of a blossoming economic relationship. Bilateral trade has already touched $11 billion. The two countries are also moving ahead with their negotiations for a free trade area pact, which will multiply their bilateral trade manifold.

The two sides will also discuss plans for the larger Asia Pacific Community. Canberra has voiced support for including India in the Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) when its moratorium is lifted in 2010 and reiterated its support for a permanent place for New Delhi in an expanded UN Security Council.

Australia is now India’s 10th largest trading partner.

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