No uranium but Australia wants strong ties with India

June 20th, 2008 - 4:20 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 20 (IANS) Reiterating that Australia will not lift the ban on sale of uranium to India, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith Friday said the bilateral relationship goes “far beyond the single issue of uranium exports” and the government looks forward to having “mature and broad-ranging” ties. “The Australian government’s policy to not supply uranium to countries that haven’t ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is long standing and well known. The important point to note, however, is that Australia’s relationship with India goes far beyond this single issue,” Smith said while delivering a speech on “India: A new relationship for a new country”.

Speaking at his alma mater, the University of Western Australia in Perth, Smith said: “India and Australia both shared the ultimate objective of nuclear disarmament and Indian participation in the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament would of course be of great assistance.”

The opposition Liberal Party is of the view that scrapping the former John Howard government’s decision to export uranium to India to meet its growing energy demand has offended the Indian government.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb told reporters: “India already has a great record in this regard and for us to sell uranium to China and to Russia, but not sell it to India makes absolutely no sense. It will seriously undermine India’s capacity to provide greenhouse gas free electricity in the decades to come.”

As he prepares to host Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee for an Australia-India Foreign Ministers Framework Dialogue later this month, Smith reaffirmed that the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wanted “a mature and broad-ranging bilateral relationship” with India.

Commending India’s role since independence as a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, Smith said: “Australia strongly believes that India, with its firm commitment to multilateralism, should have a permanent seat on a reformed United Nations Security Council.”

Pointing out the well established connections between his electorate of Perth and India in the fields of hockey and cricket, Smith said: “It’s a tragedy India has not qualified for the Beijing Olympics, a regrettable first in 80 years. I’m sure Ric (Ric Charlesworth, an Australian Olympic hockey team captain, who is now technical adviser for Indian hockey) will help ensure the Indian hockey team is in London in 2012.”

Calling India’s “Look East” policy “imaginative and skillful”, Smith said: “Just as India now looks east, so must Australia now look west.”

The foreign minister, who will also discuss the prime minister’s idea for a new Asia-Pacific community with Mukherjee, said: “India should become a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group when the membership moratorium ends in 2010.”

So why does Australia need to forge a new relationship with India? Smith said: “We are determined to now seize upon what we see as an historic opportunity to take our relationship with India to a new economic and strategic level.”

India has become Australia’s 10th largest trading partner with two-way trade in goods amounting to nearly $11 billion in 2007. India is now the seventh-largest market for Australian services and the country’s investment in India was worth over $2 billion in 2006.

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