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Australia To Back India-U.S. Nuclear Deal At IAEA

CANBERRA -- Australia will back an India-U.S. nuclear agreement at an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has said.

However, Smith said Australia would not reverse its policy of refusing to sell uranium to countries, such as India, that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Australia is one of 35 members of the IAEA board, which will meet in Vienna on August 1 to decide whether to endorse the India-U.S. agreement to share nuclear fuel and technology for India's civilian power plants.

"After careful consideration, the Australian government has formed the view that the safeguards agreement is a positive step which will strengthen nuclear nonproliferation efforts and is consistent with the non-proliferation objectives of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," Smith said in a statement.

"The Australian government's position remains very firmly that it will not supply uranium to countries that are not a party to the NPT," he added.

Australia has 40 percent of the world's known uranium reserves, but has consistently rejected India's pleas to be allowed to buy the nuclear fuel from Australia for its growing energy needs.

Australia exports uranium to 36 countries, but only for peaceful purposes, and only sells to countries that have negotiated bilateral nuclear safeguards agreements.

Australia is also a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which will decide whether to endorse the India-U.S. nuclear agreement later in August.

Smith said Australia, a close U.S. ally, would decide its position in the Nuclear Suppliers Group on its merit, after considering the views of other group members.

"We will certainly have nonproliferation considerations uppermost in mind," he told Australian radio on August 1.

"We will also take into account the strategic importance of the arrangement to both India and the United States," Smith said.

Under the India-U.S. agreement, India will allow the United Nations' nuclear watchdog to monitor activities at 14 of the country's civilian nuclear reactors.

In return, the United States will share nuclear technology with India, which must also win an unprecedented waiver from the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow trade in sensitive nuclear material.