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Australian PM To Start India Nuclear Talks
Source: http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1231769/1/.html
Source Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs
Country: India
Created: Oct 16, 2012

NEW DELHI: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to start negotiations on the sale of uranium to energy-starved India for its nuclear power programme.

Australia had previously ruled out exporting the ore as India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Gillard reversed the policy last year in an effort to improve ties with one of Asia's biggest economies.

"We have changed our party policy so that there is now no fetter for us on selling uranium to India," Gillard told reporters on Tuesday, mid-way through her three-day visit.

"The thing that would have to happen next is the negotiation of a comprehensive civil nuclear co-operation agreement."

Concluding a pact, she stressed, was likely to take one or two years, rather than months.

Gillard had earlier stated that the agreement would guarantee that the uranium would be used only for peaceful purposes and in safe conditions, and that the deal would be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The decision to sell uranium is aimed at boosting trade and diplomatic ties between the countries, whose relationship was strained by a string of highly publicised attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2010.

Last December, Australia's Defence Minister Stephen Smith described the ban on selling uranium to India as "an irritant or a grain of sand in the relationship".

New Delhi has made a priority of deepening ties with a host of countries with deposits of uranium, a valuable ore which is required to feed the country's fast-expanding nuclear energy programme.

India is heavily dependent on coal and produces less than three percent of its energy from its existing atomic plants. The government hopes to raise the figure to 25 percent by 2050.

Although Australia does not use nuclear power itself, it is the world's third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada and holds an estimated 23 percent of the world's reserves.

It already ships the nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States.

New Delhi -- backed by the US -- won a special exemption in 2008 from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which governs global nuclear trade, to allow it to buy reactors and fuel from overseas.

India had been subject to an embargo since 1974 by the group when it first conducted a nuclear weapons test.

Countries are normally required to have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and open their reactors to international scrutiny before they can buy atomic technology and uranium.

Gillard, during a trip that has seen her meet leading business figures and launch a four-month cultural programme called Oz Fest, is also using cricket to strengthen diplomatic ties .

Indian batting legend Sachin Tendulkar is to be made a Member of the Order of Australia.

"This is a very special honour, very rarely awarded to someone who is not an Australian citizen or an Australian national," Gillard said Tuesday.

- AFP/fa
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