Wednesday, January 19, 2011

India seeks Aussie uranium

INDIA hopes to persuade Australia to lift a ban on uranium sales to the energy-hungry south Asian giant, arguing a switch to nuclear power is needed to lower carbon emissions and tackle climate change.

India's External Affairs Minister, S. M. Krishna - in Melbourne for talks with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd today - said that despite India's test of an atomic weapon, the country could be trusted as a responsible nuclear power.
''Climate change demands we aim at clean energy,'' he told The Age last night.

''It has been accepted by experts that nuclear power is the cleanest power, and India is committed to pursue its nuclear power expansion.''

In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview, Mr Krishna also:

■ Backed the Victorian government and police response to violence against Indian students in the past year, despite a sharp drop in the number of Indians now studying in Australia.

■ Hit out at Pakistan, accusing it of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and providing a haven for extremists.

■ Declared India's growing economic, education and tourism ties with Australia were the ''springboard'' for a more mature and strategic partnership in the future.

■ Said it was still too early to say if India would back Australia's bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2013-14 or whether India's leader, Manmohan Singh, would accept an invitation from Prime Minister Julia Gillard to visit Australia later this year.

Mr Krishna yesterday held talks with Resources Minister Martin Ferguson on uranium sales and said he accepted Australia's ban on uranium was not directed at India. Australia has one of the world's largest yellowcake deposits - the fuel for nuclear reactors - but refuses to export to countries that are not signatories to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But Labor overturned a Howard-era promise in 2007 for an exception to allow exports to India, a decision that reportedly sparked widespread official anger in India.

But Mr Krishna yesterday insisted the issue had not disturbed bilateral ties.

''I think it is necessary that we engage Australia in a continuing dialogue about this question. Here is a situation where you are endowed with enormous deposits of uranium and there is a whole world which is starving for energy - especially the developing countries, and more specifically India,'' he said.

He said India hoped to reach a 10 per cent economic growth rate in the coming year and the resulting explosion of energy needs would be met by moving away from coal-fired power stations.

''India, with the best of intentions, we want energy, nuclear energy,'' he said, noting the country had already struck nuclear technology agreements with the US, France, Canada and Argentina.

Mr Krishna said the sharp drop in the number of Indian students in Australia was undoubtedly partly a result of racial violence directed at Indians, which at its height last year become a thorn in ties between the two nations. But he said tighter Australian restrictions on visa entry, a crackdown on dubious education colleges and the stronger Australian dollar were also factors leading to the decline.

While the Australian figures report an 80 per cent drop in the number of Indian students in Australia compared with this time last year, Mr Krishna said it was probably closer to half that number.

''I think false promises were made to Indian students by education providers in Australia, and as a result of that the Indian student community got disenchanted,'' he said.

''When such situations are created, it gets reflected back home and the media and the parents of the boys of girls who have come to Australia get worked up.''
Mr Krishna was in Afghanistan 10 days ago and said India was under constant threat in the country, with its embassy regularly attacked.

He said Pakistan continued to support the Taliban as its ally and a solution to the conflict could only be found once Pakistan abandoned its patronage of the insurgents.
Mr Krishna also dismissed media speculation in India that he may soon be moved from the foreign affairs portfolio in a cabinet reshuffle.

''I'll be around, don't worry about it'' he said, pointing to travel plans to New York.
By Daniel Flitton The Age, Melbourne

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