WASHINGTON DC, Oct 6, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Was India Used as a US Puppet Against Iran

By Prem Shankar Jha

NEW DELHI, October 6: Dr Manmohan Singh must have known that a decision to vote for a resolution censuring Iran for not living up to its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would shock the Indian intelligentsia.

But nothing could have prepared him for the storm that broke when the news appeared the next morning. What was previously unthinkable has happened—a marriage of minds between the BJP and the Left. For the first time, therefore, it is beginning to look as if Manmohan's government might not last its full term.

The public outrage is justified, for, seldom in the 57 years that India has been independent has any government taken a decision that goes against the principles of natural justice.

The way in which an unsustainable case has been built against Iran for censure by the IAEA board and referral to the Security Council has been described more than once in these columns and elsewhere. Suffice to say that while Iran is accused of violating the NPT, it is actually the US, backed by the EU, that is violating it by insisting that Iran renounce the right to produce its own nuclear fuel. And while the US justifies this by depicting Iran as a threat to peace, the real threats are emanating from the US itself.

The Indian government was aware of all this. Explaining its vote, it disagreed with the draft resolution's 'finding' that Iran was 'non-compliant in the context of Article xii-c of the Agency's Statute'. It was, therefore, of the opinion that Iran could not be taken before the Security Council for failing to comply with its treaty obligations. India also disagreed with the 'characterization (of) the current situation as a threat to international peace and security'. Despite these reservations, it voted in favor of the resolution.

The explanation it gave for its vote: that it had secured more time to explore 'all possible avenues to reach a satisfactory resolution of the issues' convinced no one. Iran had already made it clear that it would react to censure by further curtailing cooperation with the IAEA. This was what the US had wanted it to do, for this would give it the pretext it was looking for to drag Iran before the Security Council. Even if the Council was unable to punish Iran due to Russian and Chinese opposition, the US intended to use the debate to legitimize a future resort to military means to knock out Iran's nuclear capability.

The world cannot, therefore, be blamed for concluding that India betrayed the principles on which it had built five decades of foreign policy to serve its immediate and narrow national interest. Yet, a close look at the options that it faced shows that such a judgment would be unduly harsh.

There can be no doubt that national interest played no small part in the decision. The US had mounted unprecedented pressure on India to join it in censuring Iran. The deal it offered was brutally simple. If it wanted civilian nuclear technology and access to cutting-edge technology in other fields, it must vote with the US and EU. One can only wonder how many countries, faced with such a choice, no matter how repugnant, would have chosen otherwise.

But India's claim that it did not entirely abandon Iran, cannot be dismissed lightly. Apart from bargaining successfully to gain more time for negotiations, India has, by voting for the resolution, earned the right to stay in the game and influence the final outcome. A 'no' vote, or an abstention, would have made its views irrelevant.

In the coming weeks, Indian policy makers would do well not to underestimate the role they can play. The US and the EU pressurized India as they attached great value to its vote. This value stemmed from India's size, its stability, its democratic government, and its growing economic weight.But above all, it stemmed from the fact that getting it to vote with them would prevent the vote from becoming a north versus south affair.

India can parlay all of these into getting a fair deal for Iran. No agreement will be fair if it does not recognize Iran's right to produce or process its own nuclear fuel under the mutually agreed IAEA safeguards. This is not only a key clause of the NPT but was conceded in para 7 of the Paris agreement, signed in November 2004 by the EU3 and Iran. It also reaffirmed as its 'inalienable right' in the preamble to the very resolution that has censured it for lack of transparency.

What made Iran withdraw abruptly from its November agreement was the sudden decision by the EU3—France Germany and Britain—to renege on a clause in the Paris agreement that recognized its right to manufacture its own fuel and back the US demand that Iran should not make any enriched uranium or other nuclear fuel, stop work on a heavy water research reactor, and buy all its nuclear fuel in perpetuity from other countries. Iran correctly saw this as a recipe for slavery and refused to give in. India must do its very best to persuade the EU3 to respect all the terms of the Paris agreement.

India has an equally onerous task ahead of persuading Iran to return to the Paris agreement, observe the enhanced protocol on safeguards that it signed with the IAEA and not resume the making nuclear fuel.

Lastly, the way to make sure that Iran is never tempted to make nuclear weapons is not to threaten it with sanctions and bombing but to address all of its security concerns. That, too, was foreseen in the Paris agreement but was shot down by the US. In sum, India's presence in the negotiations and its decision to work with the EU can strengthen their hand in the search for a negotiated solution. If India fails to secure fair treatment for Iran, that will be the time to vote against a future resolution.

The writer is a well known and respected Indian analyst. This comment appeared first in Outlook Magazine

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