Updated: August 12, 2010 15:32 IST

Uranium sales to India on Aussie political agenda

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Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. File photo: AP.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. File photo: AP.

Australia will resume negotiations with New Delhi on uranium exports to India if the Australian opposition wins control of the government in next week’s elections, a senior lawmaker said on Thursday.

Australia’s previous conservative coalition government started negotiations with India on uranium sales just months before the centre—left Labour Party swept to power in 2007 elections.

The current Labour government refuses to consider exports of the nuclear fuel to power India’s burgeoning manufacturing industry unless New Delhi signs the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party and its spokeswoman on foreign affairs, said that negotiations would resume if a Liberal—led coalition wins elections on August 21.

“We will reinstate the in—principle agreement to sell uranium to India,” Ms. Bishop told the National Press Club during a foreign policy debate with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

That accord would be a preliminary step toward exports from Australia, which holds 40 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves.

Australia, which bans domestic atomic power generation, demands assurances from its customers that its uranium will not be put to any military use and will not be sold to other countries.

Smith warned that a coalition government would harm Australia’s relations with its neighbours in the Asia—Pacific region.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott did not show “very good judgment” when he wrote in a book that the last coalition government had run “a kind of neighbourhood watch scheme in support of Western values” in the region, Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith said that Mr. Abbott’s words added to an unwelcome perception in the region that Australia considered itself the United States’ “deputy sheriff” in the region.

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