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Australia reconsidering deal to sell uranium to Russia over developments in Georgia

Australia is reconsidering a deal to sell uranium to Russia following concerns over Moscow's military actions in Georgia and a possible misuse of the raw material for developing nuclear weapons.

Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith, who is also the head of a parliamentary committee examining the deal, told parliament Monday that "the government will take into account not just the merits of the agreement but recent and ongoing events in Georgia and the state of Australia's bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation, while considering ratification."

The agreement, originally signed between the two governments in 1990 and renewed last year, allows the sale of Australian uranium for use in Russia's civil nuclear power industry.

Smith said he conveyed the Australian government's stand to Russia's ambassador when he summoned the envoy last week to urge Moscow to pull its troops in Georgia back to the positions they held before the conflict began.

He also criticized Russia's decision to recognize the independence of the Georgian rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as unhelpful.

Meanwhile, parliamentary treaties committee chairman Kelvin Thompson expressed concern over whether Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would honor the terms of the nuclear agreement, which stipulates the use of uranium for civilian purposes only.

He is of the opinion that Australia should at least consider delaying ratification of the agreement until after a review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, scheduled for 2010.

by RTT Staff Writer

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