Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard scatters rose petals on Gandhi Sadhi in New Delhi
AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Julia Gillard said on Wednesday (October 17) she looked forward to starting negotiations on the sale of uranium to energy-starved India as she prepared to meet her counterpart in New Delhi.
Indian Premier Dr Manmohan Singh will welcome Gillard to a former palace in New Delhi later in the day to begin talks on buying the valuable ore, which New Delhi needs to power its ambitious civilian nuclear programme.
“Australia has opened the door for uranium sales to India,” she told business leaders. “I look forward to discussing the next steps for our peaceful nuclear co-operation when I meet with Prime Minister Dr Singh.”
Australia had previously ruled out exporting the ore as India has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Gillard reversed the policy last year in an effort to improve ties with one of Asia's biggest economies.
The decision had removed a “point of tension” in relations between the nations, she said.
“Australia has changed, in determining to export uranium to India. India is changing, through important economic reforms in areas like energy, aviation and retail,” she added.
The two leaders will kick off preliminary discussions on a civil nuclear co-operation agreement, but have warned that negotiations are likely to last one or two years.
Gillard earlier said that the agreement would guarantee that the uranium would be used only for peaceful purposes and in safe conditions, and that the deal would be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
New Delhi has made a priority of deepening ties with a host of countries with deposits of uranium, including Mongolia, Namibia and Tajikistan alongside Kazakhstan and Canada.
India is heavily dependent on coal and produces less than three per cent of its energy from its existing atomic plants. The government hopes to raise the figure to 25 per cent by 2050.
Although Australia does not use nuclear power itself, it is the world’s third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada and holds an estimated 23 per cent of the world’s reserves.
It already ships the nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the US.
New Delhi - backed by the US - won a special exemption in 2008 from the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which governs global nuclear trade, to allow it to buy reactors and fuel from overseas.
India, which has fractious relations with its nuclear-armed neighbour Pakistan, had been subject to an embargo since 1974 by the group when it first conducted a nuclear weapons test.
Countries are normally required to have signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and open their reactors to international scrutiny before they can buy atomic technology and uranium.
Gillard earlier fell to the ground in front of television cameras when the heel of her shoe became stuck in soft grass after she had laid a wreath at a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.
She was unhurt and laughed off the incident.
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