Uranium ‘not safe with Putin’ Cameron Stewart THE Howard Government will announce a multi-billion-dollar deal on Friday to sell uranium to Russia at a time when Moscow is seeking to restore its military might across the globe. But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has strongly rejected claims there are insufficient safeguards to prevent Australian uranium being diverted to military use or on-sold to rogue nations. The deal will be signed by John Howard and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, and Mr Downer yesterday rejected claims by a prominent Russian journalist, human rights groups and the Australian Greens that Russia could act like a rogue nation with Australian uranium. “Russia would have absolutely no interest in breaching a safeguards agreement and creating a massive diplomatic confrontation, not just with Australia but with most of the Western world, over something like that,” he said. “Russia wouldn’t contemplate it. To think that they would is just to demonstrate complete ignorance about diplomacy, and about Russia.” Russia and Australia have been negotiating a nuclear safeguards agreement to allow the sale of Australian uranium for domestic use in Russia. Mr Downer said the deal was looking likely but would not give further details until it was formally announced. Russia would be able to use the uranium for its civilian nuclear power program but not for military purposes, nor to on-sell it to third countries such as Iran. The deal comes only a month after the federal Government’s controversial decision to allow uranium sales to India, despite it not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. According to government figures, Australia exported about $630 million worth of uranium in 2006-07. That is expected to rise to $814 million this financial year. Speakers at a conference in Sydney yesterday issued strong warnings against the deal, saying Russia under Mr Putin had becoming increasingly maverick and anti-democratic and that it could not be trusted to stick to the terms of the agreement. International human rights lawyer Robert Amsterdam said there was no way for Australia to keep Mr Putin accountable on the deal, given the President’s growing disregard for the rule of law in his own country. He said there was a genuine danger the uranium would be on-sold to countries such as Iran, which is building a nuclear weapons capability. “Mr Putin stands shoulder to shoulder with Iran,” he said. “If (John) Howard wishes to do business with Mr Putin, he needs to understand the kind of company he is keeping.” Russian journalist Grigory Pasko, once jailed for revealing that Russia was illegally dumping radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan, said Australia could not accept Russia’s guarantees, despite it having signed the NPT. “I don’t believe for a moment that Australian uranium will be used for totally peaceful purposes,” he said yesterday. Greens spokeswoman Christine Milne said the agreement was “purely an export dollar deal for some of the very large companies in Australia”. But Mr Downer said such arguments were “just a cover for the basic argument that these people are making, which is we don’t want to export uranium”. “If you don’t want to export uranium, people should say so. That’s their position. My view is you can put in place a good safeguards arrangement with Russia,” he said.