Australian PM Julia Gillard in India, uranium on agenda

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New Delhi: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard arrived in New Delhi on Monday for a state visit that will include talks about selling uranium to energy-hungry India.

Australia has agreed to consider the sale even though India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and Gillard and Prime Manmohan Manmohan Singh are slated to announce preliminary negotiations over a civil nuclear deal.

“They will discuss this matter and make some progress, but the whole process will take some time,” an Indian government official said on condition of anonymity.

An Australian official confirmed the agenda, saying that an announcement was likely on how safeguards would be guaranteed.

Australia’s ruling centre-left Labor party voted to overturn its ban on uranium sales to India last year after a long debate about nuclear weapons and reactor safety following Japan’s atomic crisis.

Fast-growing India is a key trade partner for Australia and the two countries agreed in 2009 to upgrade their relationship to a “strategic partnership” involving greater security co-operation.

Gillard, who landed in Delhi after a surprise trip to Afghanistan, will have meetings with business leaders and visit an education project on Tuesday before holding talks with Singh on Wednesday.

Australia ships nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States but had refused to sell it to India because the country is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India ended its status as a nuclear pariah when it entered into a civil nuclear agreement with the United States in 2005 that was approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

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