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Indian hopes hinge on US for Oz uranium: Official

India hopes that the US will use its diplomatic clout to persuade Australia to amend its policy to sell uranium to New Delhi.

india Updated: May 11, 2006 17:05 IST

India hopes that the US will use its diplomatic clout to persuade Australia to amend its policy to sell uranium to New Delhi when Australian Prime Minister John Howard visits Washington over the weekend.

"We hope that the US uses its diplomatic weight with Australia to persuade them of the importance of uranium for civil nuclear energy in India," a highly placed source said.

"It will be a big help to us in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) if Australia agrees to change its policy on selling uranium," the source added.

Howard will be seeking more details from the American side about the US-India civil nuclear deal before deciding on whether to change his country's declared policy of not selling uranium to non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a top official said.

Howard's visit comes nearly a week after a seven-member Australian team headed by David Ritchie, deputy secretary in the department of foreign affairs, met Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran in New Delhi and discussed finer details of the nuclear deal agreed upon between New Delhi and Washington last year.

In that meeting, the Australian side had hinted at the possibility of Canberra selling uranium to New Delhi if the latter negotiated a special bilateral agreement for placing its reactors and nuclear facilities that will use Australian uranium under permanent safeguards.

A report in Thursday's edition of The Australian said that Australia might agree to change its ban on exporting uranium to countries that have not signed the NPT if there was "suitable reciprocal movement" from India.

Anticipating strong domestic reaction to such reports, especially from the influential non-proliferation lobby in that country, Howard went on a damage control drive and asserted that there was no change in the Australian policy banning uranium sales to India, which has not signed the NPT.

Howard, however, said he would discuss the issue of uranium sales to India with US President George Bush, adding that Canberra was interested in selling uranium to more countries provided there were proper safeguards.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer also denied that Canberra had changed its position and said that an Australian team would visit the US soon "to talk to the Americans about the agreement so that we have a better understanding of it all".

The issue will also come up for his discussions with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper when Howard visits Ottawa next week.

During his visit in New Delhi in March, Howard, while rejecting immediate uranium sales to India, kept the door open by taking a "positive view" of India-US civil nuclear cooperation.

Australia, the world's second largest exporter of uranium has 40 per cent of the world's total reserves. It has bilateral safeguards agreements with 16 NPT-compliant countries to which it sells uranium.

First Published: May 11, 2006 17:05 IST