Australia will consider joining NSG consensus after Indo-US n-deal

May 22nd, 2008 - 11:31 am ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, May 22 (IANS) While Australia stands by its decision not to export uranium to India, it will consider joining any consensus to authorise global nuclear commerce with India if and when the Indo-US nuclear agreement becomes operational, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has said. Smith told IANS at an event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Australia and South Pacific here: “A long-standing policy commitment of the Australian Labour Party has been that we do not export uranium to nations who are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). India is not a signatory to the NPT.

“I well understand India’s reasons for adopting that long-term public policy decision not to be a part of NPT. I have indicated, as has the government, that we are not proposing to breach this long-standing party public policy decision.”

While the former John Howard government had decided to export uranium to India to meet its growing energy needs, subject to the finalisation of the India-US civil nuclear deal and the conclusion of a bilateral India-Australia nuclear safeguards agreement, the Labour government headed by Kevin Rudd reversed the decision.

However, Smith said, if and when the civilian nuclear agreement between India and the US is operational, “Australia as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will give a thoughtful and serious consideration to joining a consensus to authorise such an agreement. We stand ready to consider the agreement.”

The minister said Australia will have to do more through people-to-people exchanges to boost its ties with India, which should not be limited economic ties.

“Australia has neglected its relationship with India for over a 30-year period. That can’t go on. It has to be rectified. It is in Australia’s, India’s and the region’s interest. May be my view of India is enhanced because I come from Perth, where we look West to India rather than living in the East Coast where you look to the Pacific,” Smith said.

“We might have disagreements, but it doesn’t go to the heart and soul of the relationship that we think we have. One of the most strategically important things Australia can do in the course of this decade and this century is to enhance its relationship with India.

“We want a much better and deeper relationship with India. It is essential that Australia doesn’t underestimate and under-appreciate the relationship with India. India is a very, very important priority of our relationship,” Smith said.

Asked about New Delhi being excluded from the Quadrilateral Dialogue comprising Australia, the US, Japan and India, he said: “I didn’t exclude India from the Quadrilateral Dialogue. They were talks at the official level suggested by the former prime minister of Japan in which officers from Australia, the US, Japan and India took part.

“Last September, my predecessor Alexander Downer and current opposition and Liberal Party leader and former defence minister Brendan Nelson said they didn’t expect that there would be further talks of that nature. I haven’t detected any enthusiasm anywhere for these talks to be resumed or resuscitated.

“So it is not a matter of excluding India or Japan, the US or Australia from a one-off official-level talk that no one is suggesting, that I am aware of, be conducted again.”

Smith’s recent public repudiation of the Quadrilateral Dialogue, alongside his Chinese counterpart, didn’t go down well in New Delhi. China was irked over Japan’s move to expand the strategic dialogue to include India last year.

Emphasising the shared values of parliamentary democracy, respect for the rule of law and intellectual property rights - and of course cricket - Smith said in a lighter vein: “And some of us like hockey. In the forthcoming Olympics, India will for the first time in 80 years not be represented as a hockey-playing nation.

“It was matter of great regret for me. I think it is a tragedy. And anything we can do to help on that front, we will do.”

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