Commenting on its decision to allow uranium exports to India, the Australian government this week said that if India hypothetically diverted its domestic uranium into weapons uses following such exports that would be “very upsetting and very bad,” but that development nevertheless “would not alter the direction of the Australian government’s policy.”

Responding to a question from The Hindu on whether resistance to nuclear trade with India in certain international institutions was problematic for this policy decision by Australia, the country’s Ambassador to the United States, Kim Beazley, explained that Australian policy in this regard was driven by two considerations.

The first, Ambassador Beazley said during a media interaction organised by the National Press Club’s International Correspondents Committee, was a statement of principle: “Yes, we are prepared to sell uranium to India. Previously our position was [that we were] not prepared to sell uranium to India.”

Second, he added, the question of the fungibility of the uranium supplies in India had been addressed in the context of the agreement between India and the U.S. in that “The Americans had... got themselves a set of provisions that gave them a tracing capacity to make sure that [the uranium] they supplied India [with], they could trace it to the point where they could be certain that wasn’t itself going into the manufacture of weapons. The same would apply to us.”

The Ambassador also supplied details explaining why Australia had shifted its stance on the matter, outlining several broad issues.

First, Mr. Beazley noted, the Gillard administration believed that so long as Australia had a nuclear agreement with India that was similar to what the U.S. had, that relationship would be “roughly within fingertip-touching distance” of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Second, he said, Australia “went down and signed that agreement with the Indians basically not because we need the sales. We sell enough uranium... So that’s not important to us. What is important to us is the character of the relationship we have with India, that’s why we made the changes.”

India had clearly conveyed to Australia that it “found us selling to the Chinese and us selling to the Russians and not selling to them to be something of an insult and that had to be dealt with.”

The Ambassador said that it had then become evident to their administration that Australia could not have the sort of relationship with India that it desired if it were operating on a basis that the Indians felt insulted by. “That policy had to change,” Mr. Beazley noted.

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