New Delhi, Nov. 19: Australia has decided to unconditionally support India’s aspirations to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, nudging New Delhi closer to membership of the powerful 48-member cartel of nations that controls all nuclear trade.
The support, articulated by visiting Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop to external affairs minister Salman Khurshid, isolates China in its opposition to India, and suggests that a nuclear pact New Delhi and Canberra are negotiating is effectively a done deal. Australia is home to the world’s largest share of uranium deposits — 23 per cent of the global total.
“We believe that it is appropriate, given India’s strategic importance in our region and globally, given India’s record on non-proliferation, we think it is appropriate that they should have membership of this group,” Bishop said. “And so Australia will lend its support.”
The support comes on the back of unprecedented warmth in ties between the two nations since the Liberal party came to power in Australia this September.
India has invited Prime Minister Tony Abbott to New Delhi, and the Australian leader is likely to make the journey early next year.
The Liberals have traditionally supported nuclear trade with India more than the Labour party they displaced. Negotiators from the two nations have already held two rounds of talks on a civil nuclear agreement that will allow India to dip into Australia’s vast uranium reserves. The third round of talks is scheduled for November 26 in New Delhi.
But Bishop’s categorical support for India’s membership of the NSG adds weight to New Delhi’s candidature for membership that will allow it freer nuclear trade with all nations.
The NSG — which meets for a plenary once every year — discussed India’s ambitions when it convened this July in Prague. The US, UK, Russia, France, Canada, Japan and much of Europe on the body have already publicly advocated membership for India.
But the grouping only takes decisions by consensus, and China, which joined the NSG in 2004, remains opposed to India’s membership, citing the 1998 nuclear tests and the nuclear non proliferation treaty (NPT) that India refuses to sign. The Netherlands and Switzerland also harbour concerns, stemming mainly from fears that allowing India into the grouping will trigger copycat demands from Pakistan and Israel — nations that like India have flourishing nuclear programmes outside the NPT regime.
Australia has not opposed India — but Bishop’s assurance to Khurshid is its clearest enunciation of unequivocal support. “The public support we’ve now got from Australia helps,” an official here said. “It tells fence sitters that one of the biggest stakeholders in nuclear trade is willing to openly back India, and that they may need to reconsider their opposition.”
The support also indicates a belief in the Australian government that a nuclear deal with India will be a reality soon, officials said.
The Labour government that preceded Abbott had hinted at festering concerns over India’s refusal to sign the NPT, even though it had indicated it would likely consider New Delhi’s application for membership to the NSG “favourably”.
“If they (Australia) are clear about supporting our membership at the NSG, it means they don’t share any of the concerns that Labour had,” an official said.