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Ex-IAEA chairman throws spanner on Aussie-India N-deal, says India could use enriched uranium for armaments

By Our Representative
Seeking to throwing a spanner on India-Australia nuclear deal for the supply of uranium, which was clinched during Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s India visit in September 2014, former chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ronald Walker, has “warned” the Aussie authorities that the agreement to sell uranium to India “drastically changes longstanding policy” on safeguards, and risks playing “fast and loose” with nuclear weapons.
Speaking at a hearing of the Australian parliamentary joint standing committee on treaties, Walker said, the deal differs “substantially” from Australia’s 23 other uranium export deals and “would do damage to the non-proliferation regime.” A former Australian diplomat, he said the Aussie Prime Minister “signed an agreement to make Australia a long-term, reliable supplier of uranium to India in Delhi, but the terms of the deal are yet to be endorsed by the committee.”
The British Guardian, reporting on the development, said, “Walker’s concerns were echoed by John Carlson, the head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (Asno) between 1989 and 2010, who had said earlier that proceeding with the agreement would be “inexcusable”. Its provisions meant Australian material “could be used to produce unsafeguarded plutonium that ends up in India’s nuclear weapon programme”, Carlson had said.
While the daily quotes a senior foreign affairs official in Australia defending the deal, arguing that India had “unique circumstances and any departures from standard agreements achieve the same policy outcomes but in different ways”, Walker insisted, there were “new wording on the question of whether India needed prior consent to enrich Australian uranium imports”, which he said was “open to the interpretation that Australia has given its consent in advance to high-level enrichment unconditionally”.
Pointing out that “highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons, as well as to produce energy”, Walker, who has been a diplomat, said, in the treaty’s current form, “Australia does not claim and India does not acknowledge a right to withhold consent [to enrichment] and to withdraw consent if it is dissatisfied.” He warned, “You can’t play fast and loose with nuclear weapons.”
Pointing out that “the safeguards demanded of India were much less stringent than in similar deals Australia had struck with China, the US and Japan”, Walker said, “Along with Pakistan and North Korea, India was the only country still producing fissile material for nuclear weapons and was engaged in a nuclear arms buildup, at a time when others are reducing their arsenals” and “there is no justification to require less of India than our other partners.”
Walker further said any safety concessions by Australia would affect the broader non-proliferation system. “What Australia concedes on safeguards, Canada will find it difficult to try to maintain. If Canada and Australia fold in their safeguards negotiation with India, India’s negotiating position against the Americans is improved”, he said.
Contradicting Walker, the current director-general of Asno, Robert Floyd, defended the treaty at a hearing saying, neither Australia nor India viewed the terms of the treaty as allowing Delhi to enrich uranium unconditionally. Consent to enrich had merely been granted in advance under strict circumstances to guarantee stability for India’s nuclear fuel cycle. Besides, India was subject to IAEA inspections at a greater “frequency and intensity” than countries that had signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

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