Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday urged her party to withdraw its prohibition on uranium sales to nuclear-armed India, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Oct. 27).
The ruling Labor Party reversed course in 2007 on uranium export talks that Canberra had entered into with New Delhi. Australia's longstanding policy has been not to sell nuclear material to nations that have not inked the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such as India.
In a commentary published by the Sydney Morning Herald, Gillard urged her party to drop its opposition to uranium sales to India at its yearly conference in December.
"It is time for Labor to modernize our platform and enable us to strengthen our connection with dynamic, democratic India," Gillard said in the opinion piece.
But many within the Labor Party as well as the Greens Party do not want to see the ban on uranium sales to India overturned. The Greens backing is necessary for Gillard's coalition government to hold onto power.
Canberra's present policy permits the sale of uranium exclusively for atomic energy generation purposes. It has reached uranium trade deals with multiple European nations as well as China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States. Australia possesses two-fifths of the planet's discovered uranium reserves.
Greens leader and lawmaker Bob Brown cautioned that exporting uranium to the South Asian nation would exacerbate the "nuclear arms race" (Rod McGuirk, Associated Press/Washington Post, Nov. 15).
The Greens senator told Australia's ABC News that India "is a country that has intermediate-range missiles. It's developing a plethora of nuclear submarines with nuclear weapons," Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported (Deutsche Presse-Agentur/The Hindu, Nov. 15).
Gillard said that while Australia had pushed for New Delhi to join the NPT regime, the 2005 nuclear civilian cooperation deal reached between the United States and India changed that calculus, Agence France-Presse reported.
Under the deal, finalized in 2008, India agreed to keep its military and nonmilitary atomic efforts separate and allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its civilian sites. In exchange, Washington agreed to permit the export of U.S. atomic materials and technology to the energy-starved nation.
"It effectively lifted the de facto international ban on cooperation with India in this area," Gillard said (Agence France-Presse/Channel News Asia, Nov. 15).
Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson also supports allowing uranium sales to India, ABC News reported.
New Delhi and Canberra would have to reach a highly specific agreement on the matter that would cover how the uranium is to be transported and accounted for with the understanding that it be used solely for power generation, he said.
"That will be the policy position put by Labor at the national conference under the leadership of Julia Gillard," Ferguson said. "If that is ratified by the national conference, that will be the approach we take as a nation in terms of our negotiations with India over this complex issue."
In my opinion the party will again back the leader on this occasion ... because this is about modern Labor fronting up to a process of evolution in terms of actually looking forward," he said.
Doug Cameron, though, who represents the Labor Party's left-leaning wing, said he still objects to uranium sales to India and that he "would assume the majority of the Left would support that position" (ABC News, Nov. 15).
Gillard said she was "looking forward to some noise being made" over her proposal at next month's conference, the Herald reported (Phillip Coorey, Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 15).
Meanwhile, Canberra this year moved to prevent separate shipments of industrial machinery and scientific machinery from leaving for Pakistan in accordance with the nation's anti-WMD proliferation laws, The Australian reported (see (see GSN, Oct. 17).
Defense Minister Stephen Smith is empowered under the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention of Proliferation Act to interfere in the sale abroad of domestic products if there are worries that they will be misused. That act is reportedly under review with a mind to increasing its powers to allow the prohibition of investments in companies with ties to nuclear arms (see GSN, Nov. 10).
"The minister will not preempt the outcome of the review and is awaiting [ex-Intelligence head Bill Blick's] report, expected in mid-2012," a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said (Sean Parnell, The Australian, Nov. 14).
Separately, it was revealed that during his time as prime minister, Kevin Rudd privately urged President Obama to maintain a "reliable" and "credible" nuclear deterrent, despite the then-prime minister's very public advocacy of eradicating all nuclear weapons, The Age newspaper reported.
The Rudd administration submitted its urgings in 2009 to the Obama White House as the U.S. administration was making an assessment of the nations' strategic forces (Daniel Flitton, The Age, Nov. 14).