The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Aussie nuke door ajar
- Howard asks for details on US deal before reviewing ban on uranium sale

New Delhi, March 6: India today asked Australia to back the Indo-US nuclear deal and lift its ban on sale of uranium to Delhi.

Australia, a key member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), remained non-committal but indicated the doors haven’t been shut on India permanently. It sought more details on the Indo-US deal.

Canberra is against supplying uranium to a nation that has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT). But it is under pressure to change its policy after the US President decided that in India’s case, an exception could be made to the nuclear trade rules.

But Delhi must wait. “Policies do not change at a press conference,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said at a joint media briefing with Manmohan Singh.

Howard acknowledged that the Indo-US pact is very significant and a positive development, but added that Australia’s long-standing policy prevented it from supplying uranium to “non-NPT” countries. His government is anxious to know more details, Howard said. The deal will be analysed by a joint study group set up today.

At his meeting with Howard, the Indian Prime Minister highlighted Delhi’s impeccable non-proliferation history. Delhi may not be a signatory to the NPT, but it abides by most of its conditions, he argued.

Barring the uranium hitch, Indo-Australian ties are on an upswing. The two sides today signed a defence co-operation agreement allowing joint operations in securing the crucial Malacca Strait from terrorist threats and protecting sea lanes from pirates.

They will also have joint working groups on the pattern of the existing ones with the US, France, Russia and Britain, making Australia a key partner for India in the Asia-Pacific. Howard also announced an Aus $ 25-million aid for the science and technology sector.

Delhi is eyeing Australia’s vast uranium reserves to meet its growing requirements. Howard flew into Delhi within days of George Bush finalising the nuclear deal, which has to be vetted by the US Congress, NSG and International Atomic Energy Agency before the curbs on nuclear trade with Delhi can be lifted.

After clinching the deal, India has launched into hard sell with NSG members. Singh has already spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He told Howard that India badly needs uranium and would like to become Australia’s partner.

It’s not just the affairs of the state that will occupy Howard during his trip. The cricket enthusiast will fly to Chennai where fellow Australian Dennis Lillee helps Indians bowl fast at the MRF pace academy.

Before that he will be in Mumbai to meet the cast and crew of Hindi film Salaam Namaste, which was shot in Australia.

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