India hopeful Australia will revisit uranium ban stand

    By IANS,

    New Delhi: Ahead of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s talks with his Australian counterpart, India Tuesday urged Australia to revisit its stand on not selling uranium to it and expressed hope that there will be a change soon.

    “We do expect the Australian government to revisit its stated position,” Arun Kumar Goyal, joint secretary in charge of Australia in the external affairs ministry, told reporters here Tuesday.

    “We are hopeful that there will be a change in the position in the near future,” Goyal said.

    The access to uranium is a core issue for us, he added.

    Goyal was alluding to Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese’s remarks last week that there was no change in Australia’s position of not selling uranium to countries which have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

    “We are ready when the Australian friends are ready for furthering civil nuclear cooperation,” added Vishnu Prakash, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, here Tuesday.

    Krishna is expected to take up the issue when he meets his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd in Melbourne Thursday for the annual foreign minister-level dialogue.

    If the issue is not resolved soon, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to raise it when he visits Perth to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in October this year.

    India feels that the chances of Canberra relaxing its policy have brightened in view of the powerful endorsement by leading members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, including the US, France and Russia, for India to join elite nuclear groupings like the NSG.

    Issues relating to the welfare of over 100,000 Indian students in Australia will also be discussed.

    There has been a sharp drop of 30 percent in the number of Indian students going to Australia, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry said. The number of Indian students going to Australia dropped from 67,974 in 2009 to 42,447 last year, Prakash said.

    Goyal, however, added that the allegedly racist attacks on Indian students a few months ago were not the only reason. The value of the Australian dollar has gone up, making it costly to study in that country, he said.

    Underlining that the safety and security of Indian students remained a source of concern, Prakash said India was appreciative of steps taken by the Australian government to ensure their safety.

    The two ministers are also expected to discuss a proposed free trade agreement. Canberra has made it clear that the ball was in India’s court to start negotiations.

    The two sides have agreed to accept the feasibility report on the proposed FTA which was submitted by a joint study group last year. Once the internal procedures are completed, the government will take a view of it, Prakash said.

    Bilateral trade has been steadily growing, touching $22,4 billion last year.

    India is understood to have persuaded Australia to keep extraneous issues like environment, labour and government procurement out of the ambit of the FTA.

    The two sides are expected to discuss a swathe of bilateral and global issues, including closer collaboration on security issues in Asia and in multilateral bodies like G20. They are also likely to discuss the evolving East Asian architecture and India’s bid to join the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC).