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Australia understands India’s position

In an exclusive interview to Hindustan Times, Australia’s Foreign Minister Stephen Smith tells Amit Baruah that India’s decision not to sign the NPT was at the “heart” of the NSG decision to allow civil nuclear trade.

india Updated: Sep 11, 2008 20:31 IST
Amit Baruah

It’s his first visit to India since taking over as Australia’s Foreign Minister on December 3, 2007. Stephen Smith told the Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview on Thursday that India’s decision not to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty was at the “heart” of the Nuclear Suppliers Group decision to allow civil nuclear trade.

Excerpts from the interview:

Will the Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver alter India’s international status?

I think the decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency last month and the consensus in the Nuclear Suppliers Group substantially reflects a view, which is about the rise of India. The NSG consensus…shows that whilst India might not be a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), there has never been a suggestion that there’s been any proliferation from India.

The reinforcement of some of India’s long-standing commitments to non-proliferation and disarmament by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee on September 5 – an indication of no-first use (of nuclear weapons) by India and no intention to test – that was instrumental (in getting the NSG exemption).

The key factor to me is a recognition that India is on the rise. Not only does this century see a shift of strategic influence and power to the Asia-Pacific, it also sees the rise of India. The importance of the (NSG) decision reflects that fundamental appreciation by the international community.

Do you believe that India is now being looked upon as part of the non-proliferation solution rather than the problem?

Well, that’s certainly India’s attitude. Australia and India have long-standing adherence and attachment to nuclear disarmament. We both share the ultimate objective of complete abolition of nuclear weapons, but also to non-proliferation as well. I think that adherence by India was one of the factors in the NSG consensus.

Australia has a position of not selling uranium to India, but will you export other dual-use technologies?

I’ve indicated that our position on dual-use technology has not changed just as our positive and constructive role in the NSG and our support for the Indian exemption doesn’t change out long-standing party policy position on the export of uranium. Nor does it change our approach as far as dual-use is concerned.

On the export of uranium, I think it is important to underline that this is a historically long-standing (Australian Labour) Party policy position for the government and it is not aimed at India. It’s an approach that says we don’t export uranium to a country that is not party to the NPT.

On dual-use, we continue to adopt the approach taken by NSG member countries. You have the so-called trigger list, which are absolutely forbidden and then you have the so-called dual-use list. Our approach is that dual-use is not authorised for use in the nuclear industry.

But, where it is a dual-use for medical technology, on a case-by-case basis, we make a judgment and will in the future as we have in the past…the NSG decision doesn’t change our long-standing approach there.

Would Australia like to see India as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in future?

That will be a matter, in the first instance, for India to contemplate and, secondly, for the NSG. Of course, there is also the issue of the NSG and the NPT itself.

Just as India understands Australia’s long-standing party policy with respect to uranium (exports), so Australia understands India’s long-standing policy position in respect of the NPT. I’ve made the point that because that’s understood and acknowledged, I don’t see the point of raising that at length with India.

Many people here believe that India’s nuclear tests of 1998 and the subsequent dialogue with the international community have led to India signing a bilateral agreement with the US and this waiver from the NSG. Would you share such a view?

I certainly think that the NSG and the IAEA decision does potentially change the future dynamic which the world will have to look at. The importance, strategically, of the NSG decision, to a very large extent, been under appreciated.

It is a very significant decision, which Australia supported, because underpinning it is an appreciation of the rise of India as a great power. And, when, very significant strategic decisions are made…they have dynamic consequences for the future.

So, this is an area that the international community will watch and follow closely.

Is there also an implicit recognition here of India’s nuclear weapons’ status?

I think if you go back a step and you say, from India’s perspective, that is at the heart of India’s long-standing refusal to contemplate signing up the NPT. That goes very much to the heart of it.

As I said, India’s position is long-standing, it’s well known.

Foreign Minister, you have expressed concerns about Pakistan and we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks US military operations inside Pakistan. Is this part of consultative process or does it come as a surprise to you?

I’ve seen the reports and I think it is the case there is still some lack of clarity about what precisely has occurred. But, obviously, it is of interest not just to Pakistan, but to the broader (world) community. These are not issues that Australia would normally expect that it is consulted on.

What’s occurring on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area is of very grave significance to the regional and international community. That’s the current hotbed of international terrorism, there’s no doubt that it can’t be left just to a bilateral matter between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

There are wider regional, international implications, which is why Australia has said to Pakistan that we stand ready, willing and able to render whatever assistance we can; not military assistance, but technical assistance and other advice to assist in Pakistan addressing those very serious problems.

Historically, that border area has been an area of difficulty. From Australia’s point of view, we’ve got nearly 1,100 troops in Afghanistan – in Uruzgan province and it’s quite clear that the extremists and terrorists seek refuge and respite across the border.

So, that has to be brought under control.

Do you see the beginnings of a new Cold War over what is happening between Russia and the West over Georgia?

I certainly hope not. I think there are two aspects. Firstly, Australia respects and supports Georgia’s territorial sovereignty over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

We support French efforts to effect a ceasefire and bring some stability. I’ve noticed in the last couple of days the Russian Federation again saying they propose to withdraw. We certainly hope this occurs.

More broadly, I think there’s been an element here of the Russian Federation re-emerging as a significant power. The former Soviet Union lost the Cold War and that saw a raft of territorial changes occurring in that area.

In recent years, the Russian Federation has emerged as a significant influence, but I think that part of what’s occurred in Georgia is the Russian Federation saying to the rest of the world, ‘we have re-emerged, we are a significant international power and we want our views to be respected and regarded’.

You can’t continue to treat us as the loser of the Cold War…but there has to be a dialogue, the rest of the world can’t turn its back on Russia. A dialogue is what we need. We accept it can’t be business-as-usual until Georgia is brought into an appropriate state.

But the dialogue has to occur. The dialogue has to reflect the fact that the Russian Federation sees itself as being a significant power and influence and wants to be accorded that respect.