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Aussie support rises for uranium sales to India: minister

SYDNEY -- Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith said Sunday there was high-level support for ending Canberra's ban on selling uranium to India, describing the move as “strategically important.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard moved to lift the ban last week in a bid to strengthen relations with the fast-growing economic powerhouse, saying she would take a proposal to allow India to buy Australian uranium to a Labor party vote next month.

Smith said that he, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson all strongly supported Gillard's stance.

“It's in our national interest and it's very important strategically, as India emerges as a rising power in the course of this century,” Smith told commercial television.

While Canberra exports uranium to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States, India has been excluded because New Delhi has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a prerequisite the ruling Labor Party puts on sales.

But Smith said there was “no evidence whatsoever over the years that India has in any way proliferated, so far as uranium or nuclear materials or nuclear expertise is concerned.”

He noted that in 2008-09 a civil nuclear arrangement was approved between India and the United States, bringing the Asian powerhouse under the watch of international nuclear regulators for the first time.

Smith said this meant that India would “in a de facto sense” comply with the requirements of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which it had always made clear it would not sign.

“This is the best way of bringing India under international nuclear regulation,” he said.

“Australia's attitude is now — or should be, after the national conference — that if India signs up to a separate standard bilateral arrangement with Australia on nuclear safeguards, then there's no reason why we shouldn't export uranium to India.

“If we can export uranium to China and Russia, we can export uranium to the largest democracy in the world where there is no evidence whatsoever of proliferation of nuclear materials,” he added.

Although Australia uses no nuclear power, it is the world's third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada, exporting 9,600 tons of oxide concentrate each year worth over AU$1.1 billion (US$1.1 billion).

It also has the world's largest reserves of uranium, holding 23 percent of the total, according to the World Nuclear Association.

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