This is a guest post by Sandra Hajda
Australia is in the news after brokering a meeting attended by officials from both Iran and Israel. According to this article a recent meeting organised by the Australian Foreign Ministry unexpectedly became a Capital E ‘Event’ when both Israeli and Iranian representatives deigned to attend.
It was a feat even the UN has found hard to pull off – at the most recent UN General Assembly ‘both delegations made sure they were not in attendance when the leader of the other side spoke’.
Iran has subsequently denied that it attended the secret meetings, taking the opportunity to emphasise that it ‘does not recognise’ Israel as a state and considers Israel responsible for violent atrocities in Palestine and general insecurity in the Middle East.
Delegates from Egypt and Australia maintain that there was an exchange between Iran and Israel (one described the cross-table discussions as ‘polemical, with accusations’) and a round of diplomatic ‘high-fives’ has been exchanged worldwide.
The interest of energy bodies has been roused. Why? The meeting was in fact brokered by the International Commission on Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament, a body founded by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
At first glance this appears to be little more than a minor think-tank (plenty of low-level diplomatic meetings have been organised, and a lot of well-meaning articles about disarmament commissioned), but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it is responsible for preparing ‘the next five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is under a lot of economic pressure to increase uranium mining in Australia (for export to the rest of the world), and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place (in other words, to ensure that Australia’s uranium is used for peaceful purposes). This article by a Japanese think tank (Japan is a co-founder of the ICNND) argues that Australia is a bearer of ‘grave responsibility for the world’s nuclear fuel cycle’ because it has access to the world’s largest uranium deposits and because it enjoys protection by the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ – it is an ally of the US and depends upon US nuclear weapons.
In other words it is in the enviable position of:
1) standing to benefit economically from uranium exports
2) having the authority (because it is a non-nuclear weapons state) to preach about disarmament; and
3) knowing that it is safe under the US nuclear umbrella.
It is important to place this in the context of the recent administration change. In early 2007 the Australian Labor party (still an opposition party) unceremoniously abandoned its policy of blocking new uranium mines (a policy it had held since 1982). At the time the move was said to be a bit of pre-election posturing. Apparently Labor insiders feared the Howard government would use the ‘no new mines’ policy to embarrass them. The ‘embarrassing’ policy was dropped like a hot potato just before Australia went to the polls.
Of course, Labor was victorious. On November 24th 2007 the Rudd government came into power. They honoured the ‘new mines’ policy change after their election win, and continue to do so today. Exports to countries like Russia are on the agenda, and the government has even developed a fascinating FAQ-style web page designed to ease public fears about this.
This year reporters reacted with shock when Labor Minister Peter Garrett announced his support for a new mine in South Australia, suggesting that many failed to even notice the 2007 policy backflip. Prime Minister Rudd was forced to comment that Labor had “transparently and democratically â€¦ changed our policy” in 2007.
“You can’t get more transparent than that” he said.
So a public and media backlash continues – uranium is a hot topic. The ICNND’s achievements at the next Non-Proliferation conference will have huge ramifications for the future of Australia’s uranium.
There is a lot of money at stake here. If Australia can convince the world (and its domestic voters) that uranium can safely be exported (and mined) then a lot of people stand to profit. So maybe we are about to witness the unthinkable: a push for international security motivated by the desire to capitalise on natural resources.
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Filed in: Current affairs