Some questions, but Australia won’t sell uranium to IndiaJune 12th, 2008 - 8:22 pm ICT by IANS
By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, June 12 (IANS) Australia’s Labour Party government led by Kevin Rudd is unlikely to reverse its refusal to export uranium to India, though new questions are being raised on the rationale behind the refusal. “There is not much logic in making a permanent outlaw of India, which developed the bomb after the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) was drawn up in 1968 and therefore was excluded from the treaty, but has been better behaved than China, which is a member of the NPT because it was an existing nuclear weapons state,” wrote Mike Steketee in The Australian Thursday.
India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee is scheduled to visit Australia later this month.
It seemed Australia had softened its stand on the issue at last month’s meeting of the Nuclear Supplier’s Group in Berlin.
But when a local radio host asked Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard Thursday to comment on Foreign Minister Stephen Smith’s signal that India’s refusal to sign the (NPT) could be overlooked and that Australia could be selling uranium to a non-signatory country, she replied: “I think the government has made very clear its attitude here and we’ve made very clear our attitude about nuclear disarmament matters generally.”
“We’re obviously working with a substantial democracy in our region with India and those talks will continue. He’s (Smith) stepping through the diplomacy and I think we should let him do that,” Gillard added.
Rudd’s new international commission on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament will be chaired by former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who will report to an international conference hosted by Australia at the end of next year.
Evans has said that a new structure will build on the NPT to include non-member countries like India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, who have nuclear weapons.
“That would get Rudd off a hook,” Steketee wrote.
“He ruled out this week selling uranium to India because he said it was important to maintain the integrity of the NPT. Breaking the rules of the treaty will only encourage other countries to develop nuclear weapons first and wait for the rest of the world to accept their actions later.
“If India were to commit to a ban on nuclear testing and the production of weapons-grade material, this could open the way for it to join a restructured NPT,” added Steketee, the newspaper’s national affairs editor.
Despite the NPT coming into force in 1968, there are still more than 25,000 nuclear warheads; 10,200 of them are operational and thousands can be launched within minutes.
At a press conference in Tokyo, Prime Minister Rudd reiterated Wednesday: “Our resolve is very clear. Our immediate task is to bring back a sense of global commitment and strengthening to the nuclear non-proliferation regime under the NPT, that’s the immediate task we set ourselves for 2010, and the build-up processes leading to them.”
Welcoming Rudd’s announcement suggesting renewed priority to disarmament, the National Democratic Party’s leader Andrew Bartlett wrote in an online journal Thursday: “It is hard to tell at this stage whether Kevin Rudd’s announcement will amount to little more than a piece of window dressing … Mr Rudd has made it clear that the uranium exports to China will still continue, although the prospects of support for the same being done with India appear to have cooled.”
The former John Howard-led Liberal Government had last August agreed to sell uranium to India subject to the finalisation of a US-India nuclear deal and the conclusion of a bilateral Australia-India nuclear safeguards agreement.
“This government will also have its conversion to understanding the rise of India. Australia holds the world’s largest uranium reserves, and a uranium supply relationship would be the most direct way to make it an indispensable partner to a rising India,” said Rory Medcalf, programme director, international security, at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, an independent think tank based here.