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NUCLEAR TEST 'THREAT' TO INDIA URANIUM BID
User ID: 153109
10/10/2006 05:51 AM
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INDIA'S efforts to buy Australian uranium may be derailed by North Korea's first nuclear weapons test.
Government backbenchers say Australia should forget any plans to change its uranium supply policy, amid fears that more countries in the region will develop weapons.
Fears are growing that North Korea's action could fuel a regional arms race and set back global efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons.
Australia has condemned the test and today hauled in North Korea's ambassador to voice its displeasure.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer summoned ambassador Chon Jae Hong to Parliament House and told him Australia would support United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
Overnight, the UN Security Council condemned Pyongyang's declaration that it had carried out a nuclear test, a claim backed by seismological evidence.
It is expected to be a few days, however, before the Security Council votes on action proposed by the US, including financial and trade sanctions, and international inspections of all cargo entering and leaving North Korea.
In addition, the Australian Government will prevent North Koreans visiting Australia and will move to cancel existing visas.
In a diplomatic note, Mr Downer warned the test could prompt other countries in the region to take up arms.
“North Korea's actions risk fuelling a regional arms race, further undermining its own security,” he said.
It's a fear shared by the former prime minister, Paul Keating, who believes Japan could be goaded into developing atomic weapons, provoking a feud with China.
Prime Minister John Howard admitted the test was a major setback to efforts to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“What North Korea has done is a very serious blow to the non-proliferation regime,” he said.
North Korea defended the test on the basis of national security, claiming it faced a serious threat from the US.
“(It's in our) supreme national interests and security of our nation,” Mr Chon told reporters before his meeting with Mr Downer.
“We are under extreme threat of US of nuclear war.”
Recent events appear to have created concerns among coalition backbenchers about any plans the government may have to change its uranium supply policy.
In the face of pressure from New Delhi and Washington, the Government had been expected to reverse its policy and supply uranium to India.
Australia's policy currently allows the sale of uranium only to countries which are signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
India, which is not a signatory, is exerting pressure for Australia to reconsider its policy.
During a joint party room meeting today, though, one coalition member warned now would not be a good time to change the policy.
“It is important that we do all we can to make sure the non-proliferation regime does not unravel and now would not be a good time to sell uranium to India, who is not a member of the NPT,” a government spokesman quoted them as telling the meeting.
There was no response from Mr Howard, or any other minister, the spokesman said.
Despite Australia's condemnation of the nuclear test, it is unlikely to cut diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.
“In the end, probably the balance favours us maintaining some dialogue with them, as they're an Asia-Pacific country,” Mr Downer told Southern Cross Radio.
“It's better to maintain some dialogue with them than not.
“Any decision to kick the ambassador out will be an on-balance judgment.”
Labor backs the Government's decision to keep open channels of communication.
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd agreed North Korea's ambassador should not be expelled from Australia.
[link to www.news.com.au]
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