In a big boost to India's efforts to win support of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australian Prime Minister John Howard Thursday called his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh and told him about Canberra's decision to sell uranium to New Delhi.
"Howard called Manmohan Singh today to inform him of the decision of the Australian government regarding the sale of uranium to India," External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said in response to a question.
"The prime minister thanked Prime Minister Howard. It was agreed that the matter would be discussed further at the official level," he said.
With Howard's telephone call to Manmohan Singh, the ambiguity has ended about Australia's position on making an exception for India in the aftermath of the 123 bilateral India-US civil nuclear pact to sell uranium to India.
Australia and India will begin negotiating a uranium trade pact, Howard told reporters in Canberra after his call to Manmohan Singh.
"Australia has decided in principle to export uranium to India, subject to India agreeing to very stringent safeguards and conditions," Howard told reporters.
"Our officials will now enter into negotiations regarding the conditions," he said.
Australia's national policy forbids the sale of uranium to those countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Howard's call comes amidst a renewed domestic debate in Australia, an influential NSG member which has 40 per cent of the world's known uranium reserves, about the prudence of selling uranium to India - a non-signatory to the NPT - with leading opposition parties attacking the government's decision.
While approving the decision to sell uranium, the head of Australian nuclear establishment, Ziggy Switkowski, has, however, sought to link the uranium sale to New Delhi giving a legal commitment to abandoning nuclear testing in future.
The National Security Committee of Cabinet Tuesday decided in principle to export uranium to India, but only after Canberra negotiates a separate safeguards agreement with New Delhi on Australian uranium.
Switkowski, the chairman of Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, said in Melbourne Wednesday that he expected a ban on nuclear testing by India to be part of any uranium deal with Australia.
"To be allowed access in one case to American technology for new generation reactors and to our high quality uranium you've got to be prepared to accommodate the rules that govern reasonable international behaviour," Australian newspaper Herald Sun quoted him as saying.
"I think continuing weapons testing would compromise that kind of a situation," Switkowski said.
"I think at that stage we have to reverse out of the agreement in terms of supplying Australian uranium," he said, when asked about Canberra's response if New Delhi did not accept this condition.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has made it clear that Canberra will supply uranium to India only after the 123 civil nuclear pact is signed by India and the US.