Australian Uranium Deal at Risk

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia said Monday that it was reconsidering a deal to sell nuclear fuel to Moscow after Russia's military incursion into Georgia.

Australia's previous conservative government agreed in September to expand a small-scale 1990 deal to sell uranium to Russia on the condition that it was not sold on to Iran.

"When considering ratification, the government will take into account not just the merits of the agreement, but recent and ongoing events in Georgia," Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told the parliament.

Former Prime Minister John Howard, signing the treaty with then-President Vladimir Putin at a meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders in Sydney, had said "stringent" controls would ensure that the uranium was not used in weapons.

But lawmakers considering whether the treaty should enter into force said Monday that Putin, now prime minister, was unlikely to abide by the terms of a treaty and safeguards for the use of Australian uranium in Russia's civilian nuclear industry.

"I don't know if you've looked on the TV into Vladimir Putin's eyes. He is one tough son of a gun, and I don't think that he cares about what we think," said Kelvin Thomson, committee chairman from the center-left Labor government.

"Recently he's taken South Ossetia and another province off Georgia, and there's no real comeback over that," Thomson said.