The new Conservative Government in Australia will not overturn the previous Labour Party’s decision on supplying uranium to India although it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“The intention of both the sides is to try and finish the safeguard agreement as fast as possible,” Australian High Commissioner Patrick Suckling told newspersons here on Monday. Australia holds nearly one-third of world’s known reserves of uranium.
The resolve to continue with talks on a safeguard agreement for sale of uranium to India is not unexpected. The Conservative Government, which had lost to the Labour Party in 2008, had supported India’s quest for an exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group and promised to give it uranium if the approval came through.
But storm clouds appeared after the Labour Party took over and a senior Minister had then told India’s nuclear negotiator Shyam Saran that it would be difficult to meet India’s uranium needs because India had not signed the NPT. This stand got overturned after then Prime Minister Julia Gillard persuaded her Labour Party to reverse its stand to a country that has not signed the NPT.
Mr. Suckling hoped the next round of talks on the safeguards issue would take place before year-end while describing the first two rounds as “positive and constructive from both sides.”
While the Conservative Party had no inhibitions in striking an agreement on uranium supply with India, the Labour Party, which ruled Australia for five years till it lost the general elections held earlier this month, was driven to change its stand in order to expand security related ties with India.
“We feel we have made good progress. But we have not put a time-frame for the negotiations to conclude because sometimes even the straight-looking issues become complex,” said the Australian High Commissioner.
Canberra was also looking at expanding bilateral cooperation in infrastructure development, education, agri-business, bio-tech, pharma and information technology, but defence cooperation will be a priority area.
“I see interest in growing economic relationship between India and Australia. We want to develop defence-to-defence cooperation with India and also people-to-people links especially in education,” he added.
The two countries are likely to hold joint naval exercises in 2015 and have identified some other areas of cooperation between their armed forces.