TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD LINDELL, ABC24
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 8 DECEMBER 2011
TOPICS: Uranium; Force Posture Review.
RICHARD LINDELL: Stephen Smith, this is your fourth trip to India, first as Foreign Minister, now as Defence Minister. Have you noticed a shift in attitude, a shift in the level of discussions given Labor's new position on uranium sales to India?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, there's no doubt that our decision on uranium has been warmly welcomed by Indian Ministers and by Indian officials and by India generally, and that's a good thing.
But at my meeting with Defence Minister Antony and my subsequent meeting with the Service Chiefs, what's essentially agreed is that all of the reasons that our two countries entered into a strategic partnership in 2009, all of the reasons that we had a security declaration underneath that partnership, all of those reasons remain and that is the whole world is moving to the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and India is very much a central part of that.
So all of those strategic reasons remain. And what we've agreed is that we can do more and we should do more and we will do more in terms of practical cooperation.
RICHARD LINDELL: So, to describe the uranium decision as a shift in the relationship, removing the stumbling block that was there in the relationship, is that overstating the case then?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, in the past some people have described our policy in that area as being, you know, a significant difficulty. I think some people have overstated it. What you do know is that what you could describe as an irritant or a grain of sand in the relationship is now gone. And that reflects two things. It reflects the fact that the world arrangements changed in this area when India voluntarily agreed to go under the effective authority of the international civil nuclear regulators, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the International Atomic Energy Agency.
But, secondly, and this was part of the Prime Minister's and my rationale in supporting the change, was that it reflects the fact that India is the world's largest democracy. There's never been any serious suggestion or any evidence of proliferation on India's part.
RICHARD LINDELL: The Government has already said no to uranium sales to Pakistan. But does Labor's position now open the door to other suppliers to sell to countries like Pakistan that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, I don't believe so. What other countries do in terms of their exporting of uranium is, in the end, a matter for them. But the significant uranium exporting countries, whether it's Australia or Canada, do have a safeguards regime.
The circumstances for India so far as export of uranium is concerned are, in my view, unique.
Pakistan does not have the same record so far as proliferation is concerned. There have been serious expressions of concern about proliferation in the past.
RICHARD LINDELL: But Australia is signalling to the world now that the Non-Proliferation Treaty is no longer a key issue when making decisions around uranium sales.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, that's not right. Signalling to the world that the circumstances in respect of India changed in 2008-2009 when the international community, through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Suppliers Group, agreed to the so-called India-United States Civil Nuclear Arrangement and the undertakings that India gave in that respect including separation of civilian from military nuclear technology and an undertaking not to engage in nuclear tests.
So that's the public policy rationale for the change that the Australian Labor Party and the Government has made.
RICHARD LINDELL: Okay, so let's move on to your discussions with the Defence Minister today. What was his reaction to the decision of having a joint US-Australia base in Darwin?
STEPHEN SMITH: India understands that Australia has an alliance relationship with the United States. India also understands that Australia has a strong view that the engagement of the United States in the Asia Pacific, indeed the enhanced engagement of the United States in the Asia Pacific, is a good thing for peace, prosperity and stability.
RICHARD LINDELL: Was the notion of a trilateral pact, as reportedly raised by the Foreign Minister last week, was that idea raised in our discussions today?
STEPHEN SMITH: No, it wasn't raised and not simply because that reporting was wrong. We've seen, through a number of think-tanks, a suggestion that Australia, the United States and India enter into trilateral strategic dialogue, as for example Australia and the United States and Japan do.
That was a suggestion made by a number of think-tanks, both in India and in Australia. It's not a proposition that's been made by the Australian Government and there was misreporting in that respect. So that wasn't the subject matter that was raised by me.
RICHARD LINDELL: One of the obvious areas of shared concern is Afghanistan and Pakistan. Does Australia have any concerns about India's desire to have a greater role in Afghanistan once US and Australian troops withdraw, or are at least scheduled to withdraw in 2014?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, we had as you'd expect a conversation about Afghanistan. I made the point privately, as I have publicly, that we believe we're on track to transition to Afghan-led security responsibility in 2014. But I also made the point that we very much see the need for an ongoing international community contribution after transition in 2014.
I again welcomed, as I did at the time, the fact that India and Afghanistan have signed up a long-term strategic partnership, just as I welcomed the fact that the United States in Afghanistan will do likewise, that NATO in Afghanistan will do likewise, because it sends a signal that after 2014 the international community, the regional community will not leave Afghanistan by itself or on its own and that's a very important signal to send.
RICHARD LINDELL: Minister, thank you for taking the time to speak to ABC News 24.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much