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Australia wants to sell India nuclear fuel. Pakistan threatens rearmament
Australia contains 40 percent of the world’s uranium deposits; India is a rising power in need of energy committed to nuclear power to meet this demand. It seems like a match made in heaven. The problem is that India, along with Pakistan and Israel, opted out of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), and India has nuclear warheads. For a country like Australia, which is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), selling uranium to India would mean breaking an unspoken law. But conservative Prime Minister John Howard has already reached an agreement with India to sell them uranium for civil use. The opposition party in Australia has registered its displeasure and promised to annul the agreement if they win in next October’s elections. More importantly, Pakistan has now threatened to cancel the moratorium on nuclear testing it agreed to with India nine years ago. And so south Asia stands at risk for nuclear rearmament.

John HowardWhat’s behind the agreement. The nuclear question isn’t the only reason for closer relations between Australia and India. They have also been discussing a free trade agreement, joint naval exercises, peacekeeping and antiterrorism cooperation, and Canberra’s support of New Delhi’s request for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Things have come a long way, it seems, from 1998, when Australia suspended diplomatic relations with India over India’s nuclear testing. But as one analyst at the newspaper The Australian put it: “ The Indian express is leaving the station. The only good place for us is on board.” In other words, the government has decided to bank on India and its extraordinary economic rise: after a 30 percent yearly trade increase in the last decade, India is now the fourth largest market for Australian exports.

Opposition protest. But members of the Labor Party in Australia who hope to unseat Howard in October after 11 years in power see it differently. They have vowed to rip up the agreement if they get elected. If Australia sells uranium to India, they argue, Pakistan might react by refusing to fight Taleban militants on the Afghan border, which would place Australian troops stationed there at risk. In addition, according to Labor leader Mike Rann, India’s acquiring uranium would create a domino effect among other countries not wanting to be left behind. “We would love to sell uranium to India provided it signs the NPT,” Rann added. Prime Minister Howard stressed that Canberra received assurances from New Dehli before signing the agreement that they will not put the uranium to military use. But there’s another reason for the conservatives’ decision to sell: it’s hypocritical to block the sale of uranium to a democracy like India just because it’s not an NPT signatory while allowing the sale to authoritarian regimes like China.

Pakistan protests. Pakistan is alarmed at the agreement between Australia and India mostly because it seems to open the possibility that India will restart nuclear arms testing. After testing by both countries in 1998 when tensions between them were at their peak leading to fears that war might break out for the fourth time, New Dehli and Islamabad agreed on a moratorium that has, thus far, held. "Any development that can impinge on the strategic balance in South Asia is a matter of vital concern for us" said a spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Minister. “Restarting of nuclear tests by India would create a serious situation forcing Pakistan to reconsider its position and react in a manner consistent with our national interests,” he added.

Manmohan Singh e George W. BushManmohan Singh and George W. Bush—agreement between India and the US. But Australia is in second place when it comes to nuclear cooperation with India. Negotiations between New Dehli and the Bush administration in the works for years were completed in late July. The United States will provide India with uranium for civil use without requiring India to sign the NPT or surrender its right to possess an atomic bomb. The agreement, which still needs to be approved the Congress in Washington, has been widely criticized by politicians and observers in the US. They accuse the Bush administration of putting nonproliferation objectives at risk and granting India a right refused to Iran, which is suspected of trying to develop a nuclear weapon but is nonetheless an NPT signatory. Even Manmohan Singh’s Indian government has come under fire over the agreement. Nationalists in the opposition have accused him of having given in to the US on too many conditions. The four comunist parties in the governing coalition have threatened not to ratify the agreement.