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Uranium Exports to India Seen Accelerating Pakistani Nuke Drive

Pakistan is likely to respond to any potential sales of Australian uranium to longtime rival India by ratcheting up its own production of nuclear weapons, regional analysts told The Australian newspaper on Wednesday (see GSN, Nov. 15).

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she would use next month's annual conference of the ruling Labor Party to pursue a change in the organization's longstanding opposition to sales of domestically mined uranium to India, which possesses nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

If party members agree to the change, Gillard's administration would allow uranium export negotiations with New Delhi to commence under the stipulation that the nuclear material be used solely for atomic energy production.

Pakistani nuclear physics professor Pervez Hoodbhoy said Gillard's announcement was "very disappointing, because it's well known that if India gets Australian uranium it will be able to divert a bigger fraction of domestically mined uranium for the production of fissile material used for making bombs."

"India's nuclear (weapons) program has been constrained by the lack of domestically mined uranium, and now (that) Australia is offering presumably unlimited quantities it can make more bombs faster. This is the point that's not going to be lost on Pakistan, and will be justification for those who want an increase in the nuclear inventory," Hoodbhoy said.

Indian experts rejected the notion that their country would seek to bolster its warhead inventory, arguing the state already possesses an adequately sized nuclear deterrent.

"Pakistan will certainly see this as a threat, and there will be those who see this as an excuse to accelerate the production of nuclear warheads," said Ajai Shani, who heads the Institute for Conflict Studies in India. "We have made it abundantly clear there will be no runaway nuclear weapons production, but Pakistan is currently expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country on Earth" (Amanda Hodge, The Australian, Nov. 16).

Gillard emphasized that Canberra had no intention of selling uranium to other nuclear-armed nations that have not signed the NPT accord, such as Pakistan and Israel, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported on Tuesday.

"When you look at other nations, whether it be Pakistan or Israel, they are not in that same class [as India] -- and I would note that with Israel, as far as I am advised, they are not seeking Australian uranium and they don't rely on a domestic civil nuclear industry for their power supplies," the prime minister said (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Nov. 15).

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