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 Post subject: Pair tiptoe around Indian N-deal
PostPosted: Fri Mar 17, 2006 1:32 am 
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Location: South Australia
Pair tiptoe around Indian N-deal
Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor
March 17, 2006


ONE issue gave officials from both nations trouble yesterday - how to find language that would accommodate both the American and Australian positions on the recently completed US-India nuclear deal.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was effusive about the agreement itself, and even more effusive about Australia's support for the deal. "I appreciate the Australian Government has said this is a good deal," Dr Rice told a joint press conference with Alexander Downer.

Under the deal, finalised by Dr Rice and her President, George W. Bush, in India two weeks ago, 65 per cent of India's nuclear program is quarantined for peaceful purposes and comes under international inspection.

In return, India keeps its nuclear weapons program and gets international support - meaning nuclear materials and technology for its peaceful energy program.

Dr Rice hailed India as a great Asian democracy and said of the deal: "This strengthens international security."

"It expands the reach of the International Atomic Energy Agency and gives it access to Indian reactors it does not have access to now. (IAEA chief) Mohammed ElBaradei recognises this."

Dr Rice went on several times to make the more general case for India's need for safe, clean energy. Mr Downer immediately responded with warm support for the US-India deal: "Australia absolutely supports the arrangements between President Bush and (Indian) Prime Minister (Manmohan) Singh and agrees with the arguments about the growing importance of India. Australia "welcomes" the US-India deal, Mr Downer said.

So why the problem about wording? Because Mr Downer also said later that Australia had no plans to change its policy of banning uranium exports to India, because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

So how can you welcome, praise and support a deal designed to deliver nuclear material to India but simultaneously impose a ban on supplying nuclear materials to India?

The answer is you can't really.

The other answer is that this is what is diplomatic language is for. And the final answer is: watch Australian policy change over time. There will be a lot of negotiation between Canberra and Washington on this over time, especially after the deal cleared its major hurdle of legislation in the US Congress.

Dr Rice doesn't mind the contradiction in Mr Downer's position. But when the deal is implemented there will be a much more serious discussion between Washington and Canberra. And a much less confusing Australian position at press conferences.


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