Melbourne: Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said that the progress on uranium sale to India was moving on expected lines and bilateral discussions were underway to put a safeguards agreement in place.
"The progress is as we expected it. The main thing was to get away from the problem that prevented Australia into entering uranium sale with India," Gillard said.
"We are working on the safeguards agreement and they inevitably take some time. But discussions are underway," she said.
51-year-old Gillard made the comments during a function yesterday where she also addressed a group of supporters of her Labor Party, especially from Indian and other South Asian communities.
"I can also say to the Indian community that as Prime Minister I work very hard to make sure that our relationship with India is strengthened," she said in her address, admitting that Australia's refusal to sell uranium to India was a blockage in their bilateral relationship.
"I have cleared that out of the way. So I'm incredibly optimistic about the relationship between our two countries," Gillard said, adding, "And also about the prospects for the Indian community members who come to settle in Australia."
Negotiations on the uranium deal have already been kicked off and officials from both sides were now in a process to put a safeguards agreement in place.
However, it is said that the actual sale could take at least two years to start.
India will be the first customer that is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to get Australian uranium, once the negotiations conclude.
In December 2011, Australia's ruling Labour Party led by Gillard cleared the way for the export of Australian uranium to India after a strong debate on the floor of the party's 46th national conference.
Despite resistance from opponents, the landmark policy change was carried out.
Gillard had earlier said Australian uranium was only meant for civilian purposes, feeding India's growing nuclear power industry.
"We know how to negotiate these agreements because we have done it in the past and we have done it on the basis that Australian uranium is only used for peaceful purposes, that the International Atomic Energy Agency is involved in oversight, and that the nation that we sell uranium to has an appropriate protocol with the IAEA," she had said during her visit to New Delhi last year.
Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7000 tonnes a year.
On her next visit to India, Gillard said as of this year she was very focussed on her forthcoming federal elections to be held in September.
"I have some work to do internationally but my focus will be on domestic fronts. I have travelled to India twice and I have loved each time and I look forward to go in future," Gillard said.
She also met an Indian community group led by Indian businessman Intaj Khan, who last year had won a local council seat of Wyndham, Victoria.
Khan, an active member of Labor Party, is now gearing up to move to state politics following his first political role as Wyndham Local Councillor.
Currently there are two Indian-origin local councillors in Wyndham - Gautam Gupta and Khan.
Gillard was also honoured by a South Asian community link group, who awarded her with 'Stateswoman of the year -2013' award.
First Published: Monday, June 3, 2013, 09:46