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Transcript of joint press conference: Hyderabad House, New Delhi: 6 March 2006: Australia-India relations; uranium.

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6 March 2006



Subjects: Australia-India relations; uranium



Mr Prime Minister, ladies and gentlemen of the press. It’s a matter of great pleasure to welcome Prime Minister John Howard and his delegation to our country. This is Prime Minister Howard’s second visit to India and he has just completed ten years as Prime Minister and I congratulate him on that important milestone. Prime Minister John Howard and I have completed a very cordial and productive discussion today. We exchanged views on a number of important bilateral and international issues. Our relations with Australia are developing well in diverse areas, including trade in goods and services, investment, defence, security, education, science and technology, environment, civil aviation and sports.

We also discussed ways of rapidly expanding cooperation in counter terrorism, which is a subject of common concern. Today we have signed six agreements including a Trade and Economic Framework, an air services agreement, memorandums on cooperation in defence, customs and biotechnology and a letter of intent on the establishment of a strategic research fund.

We look forward to the further enhancement of our bilateral ties and closer cooperation in the future. The regional architecture is an important focus of both countries and we have committed to working together to strengthen peace and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Relations between Australia and India are evolving into a strong partnership and

India is committed to working with Australia to upgrade our bilateral relations in all areas.


Thank you very much Prime Minister. I am delighted to be back in India and I thank you very warmly for the hospitality that you have extended to me, to my wife and to the members of my party. By any measure this is a very significant moment in the history of

India. There is little doubt that the world is seeking to interact with, and be part of, the extraordinary economic growth and achievements of India in recent years. The country’s economic challenges of the early 90s, which you as a former Finance Minister were largely responsible, have begun to secure for India a growing place in the world’s economy and in so many different ways, Australia wishes to be part of that.

Our trade has grown very rapidly. Our people-to-people links have always been strong, but they have grown at pace in recent years and I remarked here earlier that it’s been the rate of growth of those links, tourism, student numbers which have been very, very impressive.

I especially welcome the comments you made about counter-terrorism. We both have an interest in fighting terrorism in our part of the world. Terrorism is a common enemy of all democracies and on that note, can I express my continuing admiration for the strength of democracy in India.

I share the view that all people want to taste democracy. India has practiced democracy since gaining her independence in 1947 and has been an example through difficult times and easier times to the rest of Asia and many other countries around the world. It’s been a great example of democracy.

The energy needs of India of course are known to Australia and they are matters that we discussed. Australia has had a long standing and very strong relationship in energy exports to many countries in the region and subject to the policies of my Government we would want to continue and to expand that process.

Mr Prime Minister, can I conclude by saying that there is so much that our two countries naturally have in common, for a combination of reasons, in the past the potential has not been fully liberated. I have the feeling that the potential between our two countries is now being freed of earlier constraints and I am very hopeful and indeed I am personally very committed to ensuring that that association grows very much in the years ahead. Thank you.


My question is to both Prime Ministers on the issue of uranium sales. Prime Minister Singh, Mr Howard has made it clear that he has no current intention to change the long-standing policy of Australia to refuse to supply uranium to countries which did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. What arguments can you put why Australia should make an exception and supply uranium to India? And Mr Howard, on what conditions or terms could you see Australia could supply uranium to India, short of India signing the NPT?


India may not be a signatory to the NPT but we abide by most of the disciplines mentioned in that treaty. We have an impeccable record of not contributing to any unauthorised proliferation of sensitive nuclear technologies. We’ve also committed ourselves to a moratorium on further tests, and therefore I feel the world community must take note of India’s impeccable credentials of not having contributed to proliferations in making up its mind about cooperation with our country.


Mr Turnbull, it is true that we’ve had a policy for a long time of only exporting uranium to countries that adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and you’re right. Mr Downer and I both said there’s no current intention of changing that policy. So far as the agreement between the United States and India is concerned, it is a very significant agreement, and we look at it positively. In particular, it brings within the reach of international inspections, the civilian nuclear capacity of India and that’s a very important development and it would be very foolish to ignore it. It also means that India sees the need to interact on these issues with other countries. I think that is also a very important development and we are anxious to obtain more information about how the processes under that agreement would work and one of the things that the Prime Minister and I have agreed is that officials from the two countries will be in touch with each other so we might better understand some aspects of the agreement that’s been concluded between the United States and India.


The US-India deal, does it give India the status of a defacto nuclear power and do you agree with President Bush in cutting this deal?


Well the agreement between India and the United States is an agreement between India and the United States and it doesn’t have any automatic impact on Australia and it doesn’t automatically affect Australian policy in relation to these matters. But I don’t want to give it particular labels because it’s an agreement between two other countries and it’s not for me to put labels on that except to remark as I did earlier that it’s a very significant development and I think it has to be acknowledged that the decision of the

United States President to come here and to have these discussions and to enter into this arrangement with the Indian Government is a very significant move and it’s something that the Australian Government views positively. Both Mr Downer and I have made that very clear.


Both Prime Ministers, my question is first of all to Prime Minister Singh. Given that Australia has ruled out selling uranium to India for the time being, would you be asking Australia to lobby on your behalf to other members of the nuclear suppliers groups to sell you uranium, and if so, would you be prepared to do that?


The agreement with the United States does provide that the US Government will use its influence with its friends and allies to soften the restrictions which members of nuclear supplier group have applied to India, that we will be able to trade freely in sensitive nuclear materials and technologies. That is the commitment the United States has made. The United States may be talking to various members of the nuclear suppliers group and Australia is an important member of the nuclear suppliers group and I had the opportunity to raise this matter with the Prime Minister and you heard his response?


Are you asking him though to lobby on your behalf as well?


Well I sincerely expect that the Australian Government will take a positive view of recent developments.


Well Mr Thompson, the Australian Government’s position is exactly as I stated it. I’m not putting different words on it, I think you understand the meaning of English language in relation to these matters. So far as the nuclear suppliers group is concerned, well that’s an issue that we will take our counsel on. It’s important to make the point that we have had a longstanding policy and we are operating in accordance with that policy and then

along comes a very important agreement between India and the United States. Well we’re not going to suddenly, automatically change our position because of that, much in all as we support and laud the agreement that’s been made between India and the United States. We will have a look at everything, we’ll get some more information, we’ll take our counsel and then decide what position we will take in relation to the nuclear suppliers group and obviously I’ve listened to what the Prime Minister has said and the discussion was conducted in a very friendly fashion. But we won’t decide our attitude in relation to that on the basis of representations from the United States any more than we would on other issues.


Mr Howard, I am a little confused by your remarks, what you said in Sydney you know, that (inaudible) that India meets all the safeguards. That’s what you said. And that’s what you’ve been quoted as saying by all the wire services, Reuters etc, and when you spoke this morning. I mean is it that you said (inaudible) each other. Are you ruling out the supply of uranium? India has a special status because it is neither a non-nuclear weapons state nor is it amongst the five nuclear powers. Is it a special kind of situation? As a friend of India will you now be ready to reconsider what our Prime Minister….?


Well Australia is certainly a friend of India and I don’t think he expects me and I don’t think any reasonable person expects me to do other than repeat in plain English what our

position is. And I have said that and our position has been that we would not sell uranium to countries that do not adhere to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We don’t have any current intention of changing that policy. We’re very interested in the agreement that’s been made. We want to get more information about it, but we don’t sort of alter policy at press conferences.