P. S. Suryanarayana

Chidambaram says Howard appears to "understand the logic of our argument"

SINGAPORE: Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has sought Australia's support for India's nuclear energy programme.

Meeting the Australian leaders last week, Mr. Chidambaram urged them to give India "access" to their country's uranium supplies. He also asked them to "support" New Delhi in the multilateral Nuclear Suppliers Group.

During a brief stopover in Singapore, he told The Hindu over the telephone that Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello appeared to "understand the logic of our argument."

Mr. Chidambaram said he briefed his interlocutors on two salient aspects of India's nuclear energy programme. First, India's nuclear power plants barely accounted for three per cent of its current energy base, and the aim was to raise this to 10 per cent in view of the need for alternatives to conventional sources. India would, in this context, "take in the right spirit" Australia's advocacy of a reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

And, it would, therefore, stand to reason that Australia "allow us access to [its] uranium."

He reminded his interlocutors that India's non-proliferation record "is impeccable." With due regard to Australia's current policy of not selling uranium to countries that had not acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he emphasised that "the goal is not the form but the substance of non-proliferation." On this touchstone, many NPT-signatories could not be said to be in India's league with its impeccable non-proliferation credentials, he told the Australian leaders.

India's High Commissioner to Australia P. P. Shukla participated in these discussions. Mr. Chidambaram later represented India at the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting of Finance Ministers in Melbourne.

In a speech in Wellington on Tuesday, Mr. Chidambaram said:

"India's interest in enhancing cooperation is not just a polite gesture. It is a logical step towards establishing close economic relations with a country that has set benchmarks for transparency and good governance."