Tokyo: Australia’s new government will take a more active role against nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Friday, pledging not to sell uranium to nuclear-armed India.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s centre-left government said last month it would scrap a landmark deal to sell uranium to India for civilian use because it has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The rejection carries weight as Australia has the world’s largest known reserves of uranium with about one-quarter of the world’s supply.
“The current government has a longstanding policy commitment as a political party and from opposition that we will not authorise the export of uranium to a country which is not a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Smith told a news conference on a visit to Tokyo.
“The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has always been supported by Australia,” he said. “The current Australian government came to office with a new commitment to seek to be much more active... as a nation on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament matters.”
The deal with India was struck by then premier John Howard last August, months before his conservative government was ousted in elections by Rudd’s Labor Party.
Howard, a close ally of US President George W. Bush, argued that the deal with India was subject to strict guarantees that the fuel would be only for non-military use.
The United States has called on Australia to show the same commitment to sell uranium to India as to China, which has nuclear weapons but has also signed the NPT.
Bush, seeking warmer ties between the world’s two largest democracies, reached a deal more than two years ago with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to provide US nuclear fuel and technology to India for civilian use.
But the deal faces opposition both in India, where Singh’s left-wing allies say it violates national sovereignty, and in the US Congress, where critics say it sets a bad example to countries such as Iran seen as seeking nuclear arms.
The US-India deal also needs approval from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group. Japan, the only nation to have suffered nuclear attack, is a key member of the group and strongly supports the NPT.