Australian PM Abbott to visit India for potential uranium deal

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday he will visit India next week, where he will reportedly sign an agreement allowing the export of uranium to the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

It will be Abbott's first trip to India since his election a year ago and he said in a statement it would involve visits to New Delhi and Mumbai to "strengthen the strategic partnership between our two countries".

The prime minister made no mention of uranium, and his office said they were unable to confirm anything related to its sale despite reports that Abbott will sign a deal when in India.

Abbott said only that there was "potential for further cooperation in resources, science, technology and education" with Australia's fifth-largest export market, worth A$11.4 billion (S$13.3 billion).

"My visit will be an opportunity to engage with Prime Minister Modi early in the term of his government to increase bilateral cooperation to advance our mutual interests," Abbott said.

Australia's previous Labor government moved to lift the ban on selling uranium to India in 2011 in a bid to strengthen relations with the fast-growing economic powerhouse. At the time, Canberra stressed that any exports would have to be accompanied by guarantees that uranium would only be used for power facilities and not military purposes

Reports this month suggested officials from both countries have now worked out appropriate safeguards, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation saying a deal would be signed during the visit.

After India, Abbott will travel to Malaysia for talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"Australia's defence ties with Malaysia are amongst our closest in Southeast Asia and we feel a deep connection to Malaysia given shared experiences arising from the MH370 and MH17 disasters," he said, referring to the Malaysia Airlines tragedies.

Two-way trade with Malaysia last year was worth almost A$18 billion.

Abbott leaves for India on Sept 4 and returns from Malaysia on Sept 6.

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