Australia's ruling Labor party passed Prime Minister Julia Gillard's proposal with 206 votes to 185, reversing a decades-old policy excluding New Delhi from Australia's uranium trade because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.—AFP Photo

SYDNEY: Australia’s Defence Minister Stephen Smith said India represented a “unique” case for uranium sales Thursday and denied that lifting its export ban to New Delhi opened the door to countries like Pakistan.

The ruling centre-left Labor party voted to overturn its long-standing ban on uranium sales to India at its national policy summit last weekend despite the fact that it was still not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Smith, on an official visit to India, said the decision had been “warmly welcomed” but rebuffed suggestions that Pakistan may want a similar arrangement.

“The circumstances for India so far as export of uranium is concerned are, in my view, unique,” Smith told ABC television from India.

“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.” Though India had not signed the NPT – Labor’s rationale for withholding sales until the weekend’s policy u-turn – Smith said it had agreed to split its civilian and military nuclear programmes and vowed not to engage in atomic tests.

It had also submitted to the authority of civil nuclear regulators.

“India is the world’s largest democracy. There’s never been any serious suggestion or any evidence of proliferation on India’s part,” he said.

He described the ban as “an irritant or a grain of sand in the relationship (that) is now gone” and said he and Indian officials had agreed that they could and should do more to boost strategic cooperation.

“The whole world is moving to the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean, and India is very much a central part of that,” he said.

Smith said he had also discussed the recent announcement of a US troop boost in northern Australia with Indian counterpart A.K Antony and he understood 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,” Smith said.

Australia describes India – its fourth-largest export market – as at the “front rank” of its global partnerships and aims to strengthen ties beyond economic and trade links into areas such as defence and security.