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WikiLeaks exposes Oz double speak on uranium sale to India

world Updated: Feb 09, 2011 21:01 IST

Australia's Labour Government had flagged a possibility of selling uranium to India secretly, despite publicly asserting that it cannot allow such exports as long as New Delhi maintains a nuclear arsenal outside the NPT, according to confidential cables leaked by Wikileaks.

Quoting the US documents, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the resources, energy and tourism minister Martin Ferguson told the US embassy in Canberra that "a deal to supply India with nuclear fuel could be reached in three to five years".

Ferguson also said that former prime minister and serving foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd had been "careful to leave the door open" for uranium sales to India.

The report said that a "sensitive" US embassy cable passed to WikiLeaks revealed that in November 2009, the US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich reported to Washington that Ferguson had said an arrangement to sell uranium to India could be concluded within a few years.

His remarks were made in a meeting with Bleich and the US deputy chief of mission Dan Clune on November 27, 2009.

The Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism deputy secretary Drew Clarke, also attended. In a subsequent cable to Washington, Bleich reported that Ferguson had expressed the view that the expansion in uranium mining in Australia reflected "a shift in willingness to consider nuclear energy".

According to Bleich, Ferguson said he "personally supported the US-India nuclear agreement" negotiated by the former Bush administration. The minister went on to say that Rudd "had been careful in recent comments in Parliament to leave the door open for uranium exports to other countries, including India".

In answer to a question in Parliament the day before Ferguson met Bleich, November 26, 2009, Rudd had reaffirmed his government's support for the nuclear non proliferation treaty but went on to emphasise that, although it had not signed the treaty, "the government of India's history on non proliferation is very good".

"Obviously we value our relationship with India," Rudd said, adding that "we will continue to work with India in terms of their overall energy needs."

In 2009, a senior BHP Billiton manager, Barry Hewlett, told the US consul general in Melbourne that India was "a potentially massive market" for the company's Olympic Dam uranium mine, the report said.

As opposition leader, Rudd committed Labor to oppose the Howard government's decision to consider uranium sales to India.