Rudderless Rudd’s uranium-export decision throws a spanner in Indian goal

Rudd’s uranium reversal irks India

Bruce Loudon, New Delhi | March 03, 2008

The Australian

KEVIN Rudd was lashed yesterday by one of India’s most influential foreign affairs commentators over the Prime Minister’s ditching of his predecessor’s pledge to sell uranium to the emerging economic powerhouse.

Brahma Chellaney launched a searing denunciation of Mr Rudd’s "abstruse, retrograde ideology" over his reversal of a decision made last year by John Howard to sell uranium to India.

Mr Chellaney accused Mr Rudd in The Asian Age newspaper of striking "a jarring note amid a growing convergence of strategic interests" between the two countries.

Under the headline "Rudd’s rudderless reversal", Mr Chellaney noted that Mr Rudd was the free world’s first Mandarin-speaking head of government, saying he "has made plain his intent to cosy up to the world’s largest autocracy, China, while nullifying an important decision that his predecessor took to help build a closer rapport with the world’s largest democracy."

The stridency of Mr Chellaney’s attack reflects the widespread annoyance at high levels in New Delhi over the Rudd Government’s reversal on the uranium issue.

The Indian Government was irked when, in January, it sent special prime ministerial envoy Shyam Saran to see Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in Perth and found itself being bluntly told – even though it had not asked – there would be no sale of Australian uranium to India.

Indian sources insist Mr Saran was taken aback by the minister’s forthright stance as he had gone to Perth only to brief Mr Smith on New Delhi’s negotiations with Washington over its civilian nuclear deal and specifically not to ask to buy Australian uranium.

"Chellaney is saying what many of us feel about the Rudd Government’s pathetic hypocrisy on this issue," one highly-placed official told The Australian yesterday.

The criticism of the Rudd Government is in sharp contrast to the significant strides made in Indo-Australian relations in the Howard years, which are praised by Mr Chellaney.

But in overturning the decision to sell uranium to India, Mr Chellaney says, Mr Rudd has been "notably regressive".

"Driven by misplaced non-proliferation zealotry, Rudd not only went ahead with cancelling Howard’s decision, but his Government also continues to parrot the same lame excuse, as if he has not read the Non-Proliferation Treaty text.

"In touting its ideological resolve to uphold the NPT, the Rudd Government wants to be more Catholic than the Pope. Far from the NPT forbidding civil exports to a non-signatory, the treaty indeed encourages the peaceful use of nuclear technology among all states.

"Rudd has no qualms about selling uranium to China but will not export to India, even though the latter is accepting what the former will not brook – stringent, internationally verifiable safeguards against diversion of material to weapons use."

Mr Rudd’s office would not be drawn on claims his Government had mishandled Australia’s relationship with India.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said only that it remained government policy not to sell uranium to countries who had not signed the NPT.

Shadow foreign minister Andrew Robb said the Government’s handling of the relationship with India had been "clumsy".

Additional reporting: Paul Maley,25197,23308272-2702,00.html

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