Aus­tralia ura­nium wins In­dian hearts

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ran­jeet Kumar ]

Aus­tralia has fol­lowed on the foot­steps of the United States, France, UK, Rus­sia, South Korea, Canada, etc in en­ter­ing into nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments with In­dia. It was in late 2008, that the United States had opened the door for In­dia in the comity of pow­er­ful nu­clear na­tions by sign­ing a his­toric and path­break­ing civil nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment in the face of stiff in­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion. Since then In­dia has been able to win the con­fi­dence of other pow­er­ful nu­clear na­tions like France, Canada, UK, etc. Rus­sia has al­ways been a part­ner in In­dia’s civil nu­clear pro­gramme. How­ever, the lat­est step by Aus­tralia, after seven years of in­tense do­mes­tic de­bate and last two years of bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions with In­dia, will in­crease In­dia’s pro­file in in­ter­na­tional nu­clear com­mu­nity as a re­spon­si­ble nu­clear power with­out sign­ing the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty (NPT) and the Com­pre­hen­sive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The Prime Min­is­ter of Aus­tralia Tony Ab­bott, who be­came the first state guest out­side the SAARC re­gion, on bi­lat­eral visit to New Delhi, signed a his­toric Civil Nu­clear Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment with In­dia on Septem­ber 5, 2014. This deal will fa­cil­i­tate the sale of ura­nium fuel to In­dia, with­out which In­dia’s 20 nu­clear power plants are com­pelled to run on par­tial ca­pac­ity. Aus­tralia is en­dowed with one-third of world’s ura­nium re­sources and ex­ports 7,000 tonnes of it an­nu­ally. But In­dia was out of bounds for Aus­tralian ura­nium, be­cause In­dia con­tin­ues to be a non-sig­na­tory to the NPT. Now, prob­a­bly, a resur­gent In­dia has en­cour­aged Aus­tralia to en­ter into a nu­clear deal and sanc­tion the sup­ply of ura­nium to In­dia. After the deal was inked be­tween the head of the Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion R.K. Sinha and Aus­tralian High Com­mis­sioner Pa­trick Suck­ling,

Prime Min­is­ter Ab­bott com­mented, “To­day, we signed a sig­nif­i­cant Civil Nu­clear Co­op­er­a­tion Agree­ment be­cause Aus­tralia trusts In­dia to do the right thing in this area, just as it has done the right thing in ev­ery area since in­de­pen­dence almost 70 years ago.’’

Prais­ing In­dia’s cre­den­tials as nu­clear power state, Ab­bott said, “Hardly any coun­try in this planet has been a model cit­i­zen like In­dia. That is why we are happy to trust In­dia with our ura­nium in the months and years.” Re­cip­ro­cat­ing the sen­ti­ments Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi de­scribed the agree­ment as a “his­toric mile­stone” in bi­lat­eral ties. He said, “It is a re­flec­tion of a new level of mu­tual trust and con­fi­dence in our re­la­tions and will open a new chap­ter in our bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion. It will support In­dia’s ef­forts to fuel its growth with clean en­ergy and min­imise the car­bon foot­print of its growth.”

Be­sides nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion, another high­light of the Ab­bott-Modi meet­ing was the joint dec­la­ra­tion on de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion, in which they com­mit­ted to strengthen the de­fence and se­cu­rity part­ner­ship and wel­comed grow­ing co­op­er­a­tion in de­fence, counter-ter­ror­ism, cy­ber pol­icy, transna­tional crime, dis­ar­ma­ment and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, dis­as­ter man­age­ment and peace­keep­ing. They called for deep­en­ing the frame­work of de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion to guide the bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment in th­ese and other pri­or­ity ar­eas.

The two lead­ers cleared the plans of the two navies to have bi­lat­eral an­nual mar­itime ex­er­cises to be held early next year, for which prepa­ra­tions have al­ready com­menced. Ab­bott and Modi noted the im­por­tance of mar­itime di­men­sion and wel­comed dis­cus­sions on mar­itime se­cu­rity in the on­go­ing dis­ar­ma­ment and non-pro­lif­er­a­tion of­fi­cial level di­a­logue.

Thus Aus­tralia will be another prom­i­nent US ally, with which In­dia has signed a nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment and agreed for de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion. Along with US, Aus­tralia was in the fore­front of im­pos­ing sanc­tions on In­dia after the May 1998 Pokhran nu­clear ex­plo­sions, when the Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment even de­cided to with­draw its De­fence At­taché from New Delhi. Thus, from a re­luc­tant to strong part­ner, Aus­tralia will now en­ter into full-fledged de­fence and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion with In­dia. Be­ing a lead­ing In­dian Ocean mar­itime power In­dia needed such a friend in the face of in­creas­ing Chi­nese naval for­ays in the In­dian Ocean. It was Aus­tralia which ini­tially pro­posed a quadri­lat­eral al­liance be­tween In­dia, US, Ja­pan and Aus­tralia in 2007 when all the four coun­tries along with Sin­ga­pore ex­er­cised for the first time in the Bay of Ben­gal and later all the four met in Tokyo for con­sul­ta­tions. But the strong Chi­nese de­marche forced Aus­tralia to back­track and the idea has since been al­lowed to die. Aus­tralia can­not af­ford to an­tag­o­nise China and In­dia also can­not ap­pear to be gang­ing up against China with its ri­vals. How­ever, the Ab­bott-Modi Joint Dec­la­ra­tion is an in­di­ca­tion that the two coun­tries will be a part­ner in jointly safe­guard­ing their mar­itime in­ter­ests in the In­dian Ocean, which touches the shores of both the coun­tries.

Hence the two Prime Min­is­ters high­lighted the con­crete steps to­wards more ef­fec­tive prac­ti­cal co­op­er­a­tion in the In­dian Ocean Re­gional As­so­ci­a­tion (IORA) and noted that In­dia and Aus­tralia would work closely to fur­ther strengthen the or­gan­i­sa­tion in the pri­or­ity ar­eas of mar­itime se­cu­rity and piracy, fish­eries man­age­ment; dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion; tourism and cul­tural ex­changes, aca­demic and S&T co­op­er­a­tion, and trade and in­vest­ment fa­cil­i­ta­tion. Both coun­tries agreed to take this col­lab­o­ra­tion to a higher level at the next Coun­cil of Min­is­ters meet­ing in Perth in Oc­to­ber 2014.

There was a po­lit­i­cal di­vide in Aus­tralia for en­ter­ing into bi­lat­eral de­fence and nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments of such strate­gic na­ture. The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment un­der a lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter John Howard had de­clared its in­ten­tion to sell ura­nium to In­dia but was over­turned by the next Labour Party-led by Kevin Rudd, which has tra­di­tion­ally been op­posed to sup­ply­ing nu­clear fuel to coun­tries which have not signed the NPT and CTBT. Later, in 2011 the next Prime Min­is­ter Ju­lia Gil­lard re­vised the Labour Party rul­ing not to sell ura­nium to In­dia. Ju­lia Gil­lard started nu­clear deal ne­go­ti­a­tions with In­dia which took more than two years to con­clude.

Un­like US, France, Korea and Rus­sia who are in­ter­ested in sell­ing their nu­clear re­ac­tors to In­dia, Aus­tralia will be­come a re­li­able part­ner in run­ning th­ese re­ac­tors through its ura­nium. Though In­dia would not be heav­ily de­pen­dent on Aus­tralian ura­nium, as In­dia has al­ready started get­ting sup­plies from Kaza­khstan, with whom a nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion agree­ment was signed in 2012. How­ever, a nu­clear deal with Aus­tralia has spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance, as it will give more op­tions for In­dia to im­port the nu­clear fuel at com­pet­i­tive rates and with lesser pre­con­di­tions.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Aus­tralia has also de­cided to ex­tend support to In­dia to be able to sit on the high ta­bles of the re­stricted nu­clear clubs of the world—the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group, the Wasse­naar Ar­range­ment, the Aus­tralia Group and the Mis­sile Tech­nol­ogy Con­trol Regime. Aus­tralian support in th­ese ex­clu­sive nu­clear clubs will be ex­tremely vi­tal for In­dia. Prime Min­is­ter Ab­bott also re­it­er­ated his gov­ern­ment’s support to In­dia as a Per­ma­nent Mem­ber of the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi and Prime Min­is­ter of Aus­tralia Tony Ab­bott at the joint press state­ments in New Delhi

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