Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s government has an “open mind” on the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement, but is still to take a position on the issue.
John McCarthy, Australia’s High Commissioner to India, told HT in an exclusive interview on Thursday that Australia was still to be presented with the data, including the India-IAEA draft agreement, on the nuclear deal.
There is “no suggestion” that Australia wished to pose difficulties in the path of the agreement, McCarthy said, stressing that the Rudd government would examine all the relevant issues before taking a position on the N-deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
The High Commissioner pointed out that it was still not known when exactly an India-IAEA safeguards agreement would go before the NSG. Within India, McCarthy said he was listening to a mixed bag of views on the nuclear deal — some optimistic, others pessimistic.
According to McCarthy, Australia favoured developments that were “positive” for Indo-US relations. He had “detected no disposition on the part of the Australian government to impede the (civil nuclear) agreement should it go ahead”.
On domestic events relating to the nuclear deal in India, he said there were people who had far more expertise on the matter. However, he agreed with the view expressed by visiting US Senators in New Delhi some weeks ago that there wasn’t a great deal of time available for India to push ahead with the nuclear deal as America went into election mode.
The High Commissioner said the Senators had pointed out that “July was about the time” by which the US Congress might still be able to push ahead with the next steps in the India-US nuclear deal.
He guessed that over half the members of the 45-nation NSG were still to take a position on the India-US deal, stressing that Australia was not an exception in this respect.
McCarthy made a clear distinction between taking a position on the N-deal and the NSG, and the supply of uranium to India, which had been agreed upon by the previous John Howard government.
Australia had long held the view that it should not sell uranium to countries that were not party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), but the previous Howard government had altered this policy.
Pointing out there was considerable interest within the ruling Labour Party on non-proliferation issues, McCarthy said the Party was even opposed to the use of nuclear energy within the country.
A Labour Party conference had reiterated the previous Australian position that the country should not sell uranium to non-NPT nations. (India is not a signatory to the NPT).