Australia intends lifting of ban on uranium sales to India

Australia's prime minister on Monday ruled out immediately lifting a ban on uranium sales to India, but New Delhi remained hopeful that Australia would review its stance following last week's landmark nuclear deal with the United States. Australian Prime Minister John Howard, on a four-day trip to the South Asian country, said his government considers the India-U.S. deal a positive development, but it would not suddenly change Australia's policy of blocking nuclear sales to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"There is no current intention of changing that policy," Howard told reporters, after daylong talks with Indian leaders. Howard said, however, that it "would be foolish to ignore" the agreement that seeks to open India's civilian nuclear plants to international inspection and allow the energy-hungry country access to U.S. nuclear technologies and fuel.

Although India has refused to sign the nonproliferation treaty, New Delhi insists it has never helped any country with nuclear weapons a claim not disputed by any of the nuclear weapon states. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said countries like Australia must consider India's "impeccable record" in nonproliferation.

"I expect the Australian government will take a positive view of the recent developments," Singh said referring to the deal with the United States, which also requires Washington to lobby other countries to lift ban on nuclear sales to India. Howard said he had agreed that Australian and Indian officials will meet separately to collect more information about the agreement and how it would be implemented. The pact is subject to U.S. congressional approval.

"We will have a look at everything. We will get more information. We will take a counsel in it," Howard said. Although second to Canada in production, Australia boasts the world's biggest uranium reserves. The Olympic Dam mine in South Australia state holds 38 percent of the world's known uranium resources.

Also Monday, Australia and India signed six agreements to promote trade, air services, joint scientific research and defense and customs cooperation. Howard said India was commanding the attention of every country since it began liberalizing its economy in 1991, and that the growth of its middle class was the most significant change for India over the past decade.

Although many Indians live on less than $2 (1.66) a day, the country's middle class has swelled to more than 300 million people, representing an attractive market for international companies to sell their goods and services.

Earlier, India's Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath said the two countries were poised to expand economic ties in the areas of energy and mining, infrastructure development, education, tourism, film entertainment and biotechnology. Trade between India and Australia was valued at US$5.4 billion (4.5 billion) in 2004-2005 and it had the potential to touch US$10 billion (8.3 billion) by 2010, Nath said, reports the AP.


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