The Indian decision to vote in favour of the European resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency tonight asking Iran to comply with its nuclear obligations is likely to reinforce New Delhi’s image as a responsible power and boost Congressional support to the historic Indo-US nuclear pact signed in July.
India’s support for the resolution also came after the European powers agreed to drop the idea of immediately referring Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council and giving more time for negotiations and diplomacy at the IAEA.
India’s ‘‘yes’’ vote came after Delhi managed to find a balance between its two political objectives—avoiding a rush to judgment on Iran and underlining India’s claim as a strong supporter of global non-proliferation objectives.
On the eve of this crucial vote, senior US officials here were careful not to suggest a link between New Delhi’s IAEA vote on Iran with Indo-US atomic energy cooperation. But the unambiguous political assessment here had been that an Indian diplomatic wobble at Vienna would have fatally undermined the Bush Administration’s ability to sell the nuke deal with India to the US Congress.
In an exclusive conversation with The Indian Express on Friday, US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns refused to pose an “either-or” choice on Iran for India but underlined the central importance the Bush Administration attaches to the issue.
As the US tries to mobilise international support in getting Iran to abide by its nuclear obligations, Burns said, ‘‘I hope India will be part of this international coalition over time.’’
However, analysts here were less diplomatic. Pointing to the Iranian shadow over the Indo-US deal, they said Indian ambiguity on Iran’s proliferation would have a ‘‘devastating effect’’ on the Congressional debate about nuclear cooperation with India.
The Vote in Vienna
• The resolution passed on Saturday requires Iran to be reported to the Security Council at an unspecified date for failing to convince the IAEA that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful. • 22, including India, vote for the resolution; Venezuela opposes; 12, including China and Russia, abstain. • India says it supported the resolution after the draft was changed to give time for negotiations and it does not have anything to do with the nuclear deal with the US. ‘‘We have gained time for further consultations,’’ said a MEA spokesperson. • Tehran threatens to retaliate, saying it would begin enriching uranium, a process that produces fuel for atomic power plants or weapons.Pointing to the recent productive conversations in New York at the highest level between India and the US, Burns said, ‘‘We hope to devise a common position with many countries, including India.’’
Burns said, ‘‘India has its own interests and they do not always intersect with ours.’’ But he added that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons ‘‘is in no one’s interest.’’
India has stated at the highest levels in recent days that it ‘‘does not hold a brief for Iranian nuclear programme’’ and that it is ‘‘against nuclear weapon proliferation in its neighbourhood.’’
PM Manmohan Singh reportedly urged Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday to demonstrate ‘‘flexibility’’ and ‘‘avoid’’ a nuclear confrontation with the international community.
The decision to vote with the Europeans was apparently arrived at after intensive consultations within the government amidst a divisive political debate on Iran at the IAEA.
Indications are that the option of abstention, along with Russia, China and non-aligned bloc was indeed considered; but it was ruled out because it would have only served to reinforce the signal of ambiguity from New Delhi.
India could have put itself in the worst possible situation had it allowed itself the option of abstention. It would have undercut its own nuclear cooperation with the US without in any way changing the international discourse on Iran.
India today dispelled all ambiguity and made its choice quite clear. It was among the 22 countries that voted for the resolution. Venezuela was the only country that voted against the motion. China, Russia and many non-aligned countries abstained.
Burns who was the first Administration official to defend the nuclear pact with India before the Congress earlier this month was ambushed by the Congressmen with aggressive questioning of India’s policy towards Iran.
The issue severely tested the two broad lines of defence that Burns laid out on Indo-US nuclear pact—India is a responsible nuclear weapon power and that the deal will promote a larger political partnership between the two countries.
If Delhi is either seen as condoning the nuclear proliferation of Iran or signalling that it values the relationship with Tehran above that with Washington, the support for the Indo-US nuclear deal could rapidly evaporate in the US Congress.
India’s support for the European Union on Iran could now help deal effectively the opposition from the non-proliferation lobby that is actively mobilising Congressional opinion against the nuclear deal with India.