Australia rejects India's bid to buy uranium

Prime Minister Howard has kept door open for N-cooperation by agreeing to discuss details of the Indo-US deal.

india Updated: Mar 07, 2006 05:00 IST

Australian Prime Minister John Howard on Monday rejected India's request to reconsider a ban on exporting uranium.

At the same time, Howard kept the door open for civilian nuclear cooperation by agreeing to discuss details of the Indo-US civil nuclear pact.

"We have no current intention of selling uranium to countries who have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," Howard told reporters at a joint press interaction at the Hyderabad House.

"We have had a long-standing policy on this. We are not going to suddenly and dramatically change it," he said.

"We can't change this policy at a press conference," Howard said while admitting that the India-US nuclear pact was "a significant agreement".

"We look at it positively. It shows that India sees the need to interact with other countries on the issue," he said.

"We are interested in obtaining more information on various aspects of the agreement. The two countries will be in touch with each other to better understand the agreement," Howard said.

Describing Australia as "an important member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group", Manmohan Singh expressed confidence that Australia will take a positive view of India's "impeccable record" in non-proliferation and ease its rules for exporting uranium to India.

"I sincerely expect the Australian government to take a positive view of it. India may not be a signatory to the NPT, but we abide by most of its disciplines."

"The US will use its influence with its friends and allies to soften the restrictions of the NSG," Manmohan Singh said.

"The two countries have agreed to set up a group of officials to understand the agreement together and to examine what India and Australia can do together in this respect," Sanjaya Baru, media adviser to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, said.

Australia, which has nearly 40 per cent of the world's known uranium deposits, also announced a 25 million Australian dollar research assistance to India to foster cooperation in science and technology, including biotechnology.

During the visit of US President George Bush last week, India and the US clinched the landmark nuclear pact that allows New Delhi access to long-denied nuclear technology and fuel in return for placing its civil nuclear power reactors under international safeguards.

Earlier Monday, Howard, who was given a ceremonial welcome at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, had indicated that his country would consider the issue of uranium export after detailed discussions with Indian leaders on the nature of safeguards New Delhi has agreed with Washington.

"I think we would like to talk about it (uranium export to India). We will talk about (it) against the background of policies and needs of the two countries," he told reporters after the ceremonial.

In an interview with The Australian, Manmohan Singh had said: "I very much hope Australia, as a member of the NSG, would endorse what I and US President George W Bush have worked out. This is an arrangement, which helps the cause of nuclear non-proliferation."

"We are short of uranium. We need to import uranium and our needs will increase in years to come," Manmohan Singh said, stressing the scope of civil nuclear energy industry in India.

India and Australia on Monday signed a trade and economic framework and an agreement on air services aimed at taking business ties between the two countries to a new level.

Four other bilateral documents in the area of defence cooperation, biotechnology, taxes and strategic research were also signed Monday evening in the presence of Manmohan Singh and Howard.

First Published: Mar 06, 2006 22:44 IST