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Australia to move on uranium sales to India soon

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Australia will decide soon whether to lift a ban on uranium sales to India, a reversal of its policy of selling only to signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Tuesday.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso waits for the start of ministers lunch beside India's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee during the 40th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Ministerial meeting in Manila, July 31, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Mukherjee’s comments came days after New Delhi and Washington announced the completion of negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation deal.

That deal would not only give energy-hungry India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and equipment for the first time in 30 years, but also open the doors for nuclear commerce with other nations after getting key international approvals.

Mukherjee held talks with his Australian counterpart, Alexander Downer, on the sidelines of a Asian foreign ministers’ meeting in the Philippines on Tuesday, an Indian foreign ministry statement said.

“The Australian foreign minister informed me that the Australian cabinet will soon be considering the issue of the sale of uranium to India,” the statement quoted Mukherjee as saying at a media briefing in Manila.

Australia has more than 40 percent of the world’s known reserves of uranium and is a major exporter of the fuel. India has been lobbying Canberra to get access to it after the India-U.S. nuclear deal was agreed in principle two years ago.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said in March that Canberra was considering a shift in its refusal to sell uranium to New Delhi as India was seen as a “very responsible country” and relations between the two were growing.

Australia exports uranium to 36 countries, but only sells to countries that have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and then only when Canberra has a separate nuclear safeguards agreement over the use of the uranium.

The India-U.S. nuclear deal is seen as historic as it aims to end New Delhi’s global nuclear isolation even though it has not signed the NPT and has tested nuclear weapons.

It needs clearances from the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations that govern the global civilian nuclear trade, and India also needs to conclude an agreement to place its civilian reactors under U.N. safeguards before the U.S. Congress can approve the deal.