No plan to sell uranium to India: Aus

The Australian PM, however, will seek more details on Indo-US nuke deal.

india Updated: May 11, 2006 14:22 IST

Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday that Australia would stick to its policy of banning uranium sales to India but he would seek more details on a Indo-US nuclear deal when he visits Washington this week.

Howard told a news agency in an interview he would raise the issue with US President George W Bush, but that Australia would not sell uranium to India because it had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"I will only discuss it to the extent that I will be seeking further information about the arrangement between America and India," said Howard in his office in Parliament House, Canberra.

"We are not currently disposed to change our policy in relation to selling uranium to countries that aren't party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," he said.

India wants to buy uranium from Australia, which has more than 40 per cent of the world's known reserves of the mineral, and Howard said Australia was keen for further uranium sales.

"As one of the major exporters of uranium, we remain interested in sales of uranium, subject to proper safeguards," he said.

Howard leaves on Friday for the United States, Canada and Ireland.

Australia has sent a team to India to find out more about the deal that will see New Delhi receive US nuclear technology in return for separating its military and civil nuclear operations and opening civilian plants to international inspections.

"The same group will go on to Washington to talk to the Americans about that arrangement," said Howard.

"But it doesn't, of itself, indicate or flag a change of policy."

Rise of China

Australia signed a nuclear safeguards deal with China last month that set the stage for huge uranium exports to Beijing for its power industry.

Australia now has 20 nuclear safeguard agreements, covering 37 countries.

China is expected to build 40 to 50 nuclear power plants over the next 20 years, while India is looking to boost its nuclear power industry, which currently accounts for only three percent of energy production.

Howard, who will attend an official dinner at the White House and address the parliaments of Canada and Ireland, also said he plans to discuss the broader international situation with Bush, in particular Iran and Australian and U.S. ties with China.

Canberra's willingness to embrace Beijing has highlighted a divergence with a wary United States, which has questioned China's military and economic ambitions and chosen to pursue a nuclear energy deal with Asia's other growing power, India.

"We have a good relationship with China and one that has brought great dividends for Australia," Howard said.

"But obviously it's a different relationship (to US-China ties) and we bring a slightly different perspective as we are here in the Asia-Pacific area. America brings a different perspective again and I think part of the value of these exchanges is to, as it were, blend our perspectives on China."

The United States has said it wants to be sure China's military build-up does not "outsize" its regional ambitions and interests and ensure that China's growing influence in international politics was positive.

Australia has long battled to balance a strong alliance with the United States with its geographical location in Asia, home to two of its largest trading partners, Japan and China.

Canberra and Beijing are also negotiating a free-trade agreement.

First Published: May 11, 2006 11:16 IST