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Australia seals uranium deal with Russia

world Updated: Sep 07, 2007 11:06 IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday signed a deal in Sydney to buy more Australian uranium to feed Russia's nuclear-power industry.

Putin signed the deal with Australia's Prime Minister John Howard within hours of arriving for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the deal would allow mining companies to export Australian uranium to Russia for domestic use. He said the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Russia has signed, contained safeguards that prevent Russia from using uranium for military use or on-selling it to third parties.

Australia has 40 per cent of the world's easily recoverable uranium and this year has pledged to sell yellowcake to China and has given an in-principle agreement for shipments to India.

"The conditions on our selling uranium is that we obtain the guarantees necessary to satisfy us that it won't go to Iran and Syria," Howard told reporters. "We will be taking the Russians through the ropes in relation to any arrangement we have, and we will be wanting to satisfy ourselves completely that won't occur."

China is also a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. India is not an NPT signatory but could still get uranium under a bilateral safeguards agreement.

Since 1990, Russia has bought Australian uranium for processing and sold it on to third parties. The deal Putin signed with Howard will see processed uranium stay in Russia, which has announced plans to build 42 additional nuclear reactors by 2030.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is accompanying President George W. Bush at the APEC summit, said that Washington has no concerns about the deal between Russia and Australia.

"This isn't an issue for us," she said earlier this week. "The Russians have plenty of weapons, let's be realistic about it. The Cold War produced more than a surplus."

Rice said she was confident that Russia understood the danger of Iran gaining nuclear-weapons capability.

"Let's remember that Iran is an awful lot closer to Russia than it is to the United States or to Australia," Rice said. "I know that they would be very careful about the proliferation of any material to Iran."