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No plan to sell uranium to India: Aus

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has rejected reports that officials from both countries are trying to strike a deal.

india Updated: May 11, 2006 11:46 IST

Australia on Thursday denied it had plans to lift a ban on selling uranium to India even if nuclear-armed New Delhi refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, responding to a newspaper report that a deal could be on the cards, said Australia's policy of only supplying the nuclear fuel to countries which have signed the NPT had not changed.

The Australian newspaper had reported that a meeting of senior officials in New Delhi last week explored how Australia could change its ban if there was "suitable reciprocal movement" from India.

"Our position hasn't changed," Downer told reporters. "I've checked that out with the officials, because the newspaper report surprised me, and the officials have assured me that that's not correct."

A spokesman for Downer confirmed that the meetings had taken place on May 2-3, telling AFP it was "a fact-finding exercise to learn more about the US-India civil nuclear cooperation agreement".

US President George W. Bush signed a deal with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in March on sharing civilian nuclear technology, despite the fact that India has nuclear weapons and has not signed the NPT.

Singh followed up by asking Australia, which has the world's largest known deposits of uranium, to sell it the nuclear fuel.

Australia is a close ally of Washington and has supported the US-India deal, but Downer told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March that Australia had "legal issues" over selling uranium to India.

Downer said Thursday that the officials who held the meetings in New Delhi would now also "talk to the Americans about the agreement so that we have a better understanding of it all".

Australia agreed in April to sell uranium to China after saying it had secured safeguards to ensure that the fuel would not be used in weapons.

Unlike India, China has signed the NPT. Australia already supplies 11 other nations with uranium.