Australia can discuss uranium sale issue: High Commissioner (Interview)

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS
Sunday, January 16, 2011

CHANDIGARH - Australia was willing to discuss the issue of uranium sale if India brought it up during External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to that country next week, Australian High Commissioner to India Peter N. Varghese has said.

While maintaining that there is no change at present in Australia’s position on not allowing uranium sale to India as India was not a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the high commissioner said Australia was willing to discuss the issue anyway.

“On uranium, look, there is nothing really to report. I understand that it is an unresolved issue in the bilateral relationship and that would be a matter between the two ministers to discuss,” Varghese, who opened the Australian trade office here Friday, told IANS in an interview.

“The framework dialogue is a very serious mechanism. If the uranium sale issue is raised by India, we will discuss it in a very serious way,” he added.

“I think that’s a matter for our political masters in Australia. I don’t think there is much light I can shed on this as an official,” he said.

“This is an issue connected to the Labour Party policy on it. For the moment, our policy remains that we will only supply uranium to parties to the NPT,” he added.

But at the same time, Australia has kept a window of hope on the uranium issue open for India.

“As you know we didn’t in any way seek to hold up the US-India (nuclear) agreement when it came to the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) because Australia is a member of the NSG. We endorsed that agreement,” Varghese said.

“We were very supportive of it, but we made it very clear at that time that it is without prejudice to our national position and that remains the case,” he added.

The high commissioner said the ball is in India’s court to start negotiations on the free trade area (FTA) pact with Australia.

“On FTA, we are very keen to start negotiations. At the moment the ball is in India’s court because India needs to go through its internal process before making the decision on whether to commence negotiations,” Varghese said.

“But we would certainly welcome the early commencement of negotiations on FTA,” he added.

Krishna is expected to leave for Melbourne Tuesday on a two-day visit as part of the framework dialogue between foreign ministers of the two countries. This is the third framework dialogue after the first one started in Cairns in 2009.

“We are looking forward to his visit immensely. It is an opportunity for the two foreign ministers to take stock of the progress we have made in implementing the objective of a strategic partnership,” the high commissioner said.

“I think it reflects the fact that the relationship now is strong and that it is embracing an increasing number of areas. It is obviously very strong on the economic front, reflecting Indian growth and Australia’s capacity to supply commodities in particular,” he added.

“But we now also have a good geo-strategic dialogue with India. We work well together in regional organisations that are addressing questions of Asian security and Asian integration. We are now working closely on Indian Ocean issues,” the diplomat said.

“India has recently taken over as chairman of the body (Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation) while Australia has the vice-chairmanship. We will have an opportunity in the next 2-3 years to work very closely on Indian Ocean regional issues,” he said.

Varghese said cooperation between the two nations was growing.

“What we are seeing is a real convergence of interests between Australia and India and the building up of a relationship of substance. I think the term strategic partnership is actually quite an accurate description of both where we want to be and the underlying common interest,” he said.

“Now, our multilateral cooperation is also expanding, particularly in the G-20 where Australia and India have very common perspectives,” the high commissioner told IANS.

“If we take all of that at the government-to- government level together with what is now an expanding people-to-people relationship with migration, education and the contribution of the Indian diaspora, there is a lot happening,” he added.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at

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