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Australian committee opposes uranium sale pact with Russia PDF Print E-mail

© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

Sydney, Sep 18 (IANS) An Australia parliamentary committee Thursday urged the federal government to delay ratifying an agreement on uranium sales to Russia amid concerns over the country’s nuclear programme.

The Labour-led joint standing committee on treaties has recommended that an agreement signed last year by former Liberal prime minister John Howard and Russian leader Vladimir Putin should be delayed until Canberra can be certain Moscow will meet its obligations under the Nuclear non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The agreement, estimated to be worth A$1 billion, was for uranium sales to Russia on the proviso that it will be used for civilian purposes under strict safeguards. However, recent events in Georgia have caused concern in many quarters in Australia about the yellowcake going to Russia.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb says while Russia has already met its international obligations, events in Georgia are of concern.

"It is an act which needs to be strongly condemned, and we've done so and the government's done so. Whether it means that we don't proceed with this agreement is a matter for the government to make some judgment on and then explain that decision to the community," Robb said.

Admitting the complex nature of the relations with Russia, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said: "Obviously the global situation in relation to the Russian Federation is now complex as a result of what we have seen in Georgia and most particularly in Southern Ossetia."

"If you look back over the last 20 years or so, what has happened in the last couple of months or so in relation to the West's engagement with the Russian Federation, I fear that we are at one of these turning points," Rudd told reporters.

"This is again I have got to say a very difficult challenge for the global order. That is why this government in Australia will spend a lot of time working our way through the question (of uranium sales) together with others on the west's long-term engagement with Russia,” Rudd added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not inspected Russia’s nuclear facilities since about 2001. The parliamentary committee has called for separation and independent verification of Russia’s civilian and military nuclear facilities before sales proceed and IAEA inspections of facilities which will handle the Australian uranium.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith said the government will consider the committee's report, keeping in view the events in Georgia and the bilateral relationship, before making a final decision.

Australia, which has 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, has refused to export uranium to India as the Labour Party policy demands that uranium be sold only to countries that have signed the NPT.

“China's OK, India's not and Russia, well, it seems the government is having a bob each way,” Liberal Party Senator Simon Birmingham told the local media.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.
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