Australia and India are in a secret “dialogue” to allow the sale of uranium to New Delhi despite Canberra’s declared policy of opposing sales to non-NPT signatories, a media report claimed today.

“The two nations have already begun a dialogue that is likely to canvass the uranium sale if Labor dumps its opposition to the trade at the party’s national conference in December,” The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.

It mentioned that a confidential briefing note to the Resources Minister, Mr Martin Ferguson, in February said the dialogue “may prove a useful avenue to communicate any policy shifts on the issue” of uranium exports.

“The dialogue could be elevated in the future as conditions allow agreement on exporting uranium to India,” the note from his department said.

It is said that Mr Ferguson is expected to lead a push to “modernise” Labor’s uranium policy at the conference, having declared this year that India has a “very, very good history of nuclear non-proliferation”, despite its refusal to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Mr Ferguson warned against reading “too much” into the briefing note, saying last night that his department was “simply noting all potential eventualities, as departments do’’.

The revelation of a formal dialogue has alarmed the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which obtained the briefing note using freedom-of-information laws.

“Opening up uranium sales to India would fuel the nuclear arms race under way between India and Pakistan, which has potentially catastrophic consequences,” its Australian Director, Mr Tim Wright, said yesterday.

“The threat of a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan is real. Selling uranium to India runs counter to Australia’s own security interests, and makes a mockery of its stated commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Meanwhile, Mr Ferguson denied he is in secret talks.

The Greens spokesman on nuclear issues, Mr Scott Ludlam, has also expressed alarm about the proposal and said the government must rule out the plan.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ferguson said it was wrong. She said the talks with India have been about selling resources and energy and not uranium.

She said Labor’s own policy bans the sale of uranium to countries such as India that refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

(This article was published on October 13, 2011)
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