CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said Wednesday that he will sign a uranium export deal with India for peaceful power generation this week, but added that exports of the nuclear fuel to Russia have been banned until further notice.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament he would sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a three-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi which officially starts Thursday.
“My hope … is to deepen the friendship between Australia and India at a time of renewed optimism in India under the new government of Prime Minister Modi,” Abbot told Parliament ahead of his first visit to India as prime minister.
Abbott declared an official end to the uranium trade with Russia in response to a call from the minor Greens party for uranium to be included in trade sanctions triggered by Russian military intervention in Ukraine.
“There will be no Australian uranium sales to Russia until further notice,” Abbott said.
“Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is,” he said.
The uranium export ban on Russian will have no immediate effect, although it bolsters opponents’ argument that the deal had always been a mistake.
A previous Australian government struck a trade deal with Russia, but only a single shipment was made in 2012. That was five years after an initial trade agreement was reached between Moscow and Canberra. For commercial reasons, there have been no further shipments on the horizon.
Australia, which holds almost a third of the world’s known uranium reserves, imposes strict conditions on uranium export contracts and India’s failure to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty had long been a barrier to any trade deal.
But the countries have been negotiating a so-called nuclear safeguards agreement with verification mechanisms since 2012 when a former Australian government agreed on civil nuclear energy cooperation with India that would eventually allow the export of Australian uranium to the energy-starved nation.
Abbott had argued that India was more worthy of such a trade deal — which prohibits use of Australian uranium in weapons or to power nuclear submarines– than Russia.
“If we are prepared to sell uranium to Russia, and we’ve been prepared to do that in the past, surely we ought to be prepared to provide uranium to India under suitable safeguards,” Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp. late Tuesday.
Greens leader Christine Milne also criticized Abbott for using the Russian trade deal as justification for uranium exports to India.
“The prime minister is cavalier in his disregard of international law and agreements when it comes to the proliferation of nuclear weapons,” she told reporters.
Australia on Monday ratcheted up sanctions against Russia in line with the United States and European Union in response to Russian soldiers openly violating Ukraine sovereignty.
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