27 September 2005

The unravelling of India's Persian puzzle

By voting against Iran in the IAEA, India has put its alliance with the United States above any concern of national interest, energy security or international law.

27 September 2005
The Hindu

The unravelling of India's Persian puzzle

Siddharth Varadarajan

FOR ALL its pretensions to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, India on Saturday flunked its first real test as a rising world power. Where no less than 11 countries smaller and less powerful than us — Venezuela, Algeria, Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen — had the courage and good sense to join Russia and China in refusing to endorse the U.S.-backed agenda of confrontation with Iran, India threw in its lot with Washington and the European troika.

Scared by a well-choreographed bout of shadow boxing at the start of Congressional hearings on the July 18 Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, the Manmohan Singh Government convinced itself that it had to side with Washington's unreasonable pressure on Iran. In doing so, the Government has betrayed its own lack of strategic confidence — this at a time when the fine print of the nuclear deal is about to be negotiated and the slightest sign of diplomatic weakness will be used by Washington to push the envelope on issues like the scope of international safeguards and inspections India must accept in order to see the July 18 agreement through.

Moreover, the Government has chosen to go along with a confrontationist move against Iran which undercuts a key legal argument India has been making for 50 years to justify its own nuclear programme — that countries can only be held to account for international agreements they sign.

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) gives Iran the right to pursue the nuclear fuel cycle subject to safeguards. It gives Iran the right to build a heavy water reactor. The Additional Protocol Iran has signed specifies the kind of intrusive inspections it must allow. But the International Atomic Energy Agency resolution India voted for makes demands that go far, far beyond Iran's legal obligations. This is a dangerous precedent for India to agree to since this means the safeguards agreement and additional protocol it has committed to sign with the IAEA also one day need not be the final word on its legal obligations.

The vote India cast in the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) was in favour of a resolution finding Iran in "non-compliance" with its safeguards obligations under the NPT and expressing "the absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is entirely for peaceful purposes." The finding is under two Articles, XII and III, of the IAEA Statute, both of which mandate referral of the matter to the Security Council. Unlike the referral under Article XII.C, which is more of a procedural nature, the referral under III.B.4 invokes the Security Council's responsibilities for maintaining international peace and security and holds out a thinly veiled threat of sanctions and other punitive measures.

In what is supposed to be a major "compromise," Britain, France, and Germany (the E-3) dropped earlier language stipulating that the referral to the Security Council should be immediate. The timing of this referral has been left to a future BoG meeting, presumably the one that will be convened in November. The Indian Government, in justifying its decision to back the resolution, has cited this two-step approach as a big concession. Indian officials claim this delay provides the time and space needed for dialogue and diplomacy to work, a claim of extraordinary naivety and even double-speak. First, Saturday's resolution is more likely to close the door on dialogue than re-open it since it demands Iran surrender even more of its rights under the NPT than ever before. Secondly, the U.S. itself did not necessarily want an immediate referral because there is little practical significance to dragging Iran before the UNSC where China and Russia would exercise their veto. What it really wanted was for the international community to recognise Iran's civilian nuclear energy programme as a threat to international peace and security requiring potentially endless "special verification" inspections, which go far beyond that required under the normal safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol. Armed with this broad endorsement, Washington can now choose the time and place for the political — and even military — escalation that is surely in the offing.

Given the composition of the BoG, securing a majority had never been an issue for the U.S. and its allies. But in the absence of consensus, which was an impossibility anyway, engineering India's defection from the ranks of the developing countries was crucial. The U.S. needed to undercut the charge that the West was ganging up on the Third World in denying Iran the right to nuclear fuel cycle-related facilities. Winning over Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, and Singapore was not good enough since these are not countries known for the independence of their foreign policy. The U.S. needed India to provide a cover of credibility for the unreasonable indictment against Iran and the Manmohan Singh Government happily went along. That is why U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has hailed India's vote as "a blow to Iran's attempt to turn this into a developed world versus developing world debate."

Of all the demands the IAEA resolution makes, three are highly problematic and ultra vires. First, it says Iran must implement "transparency measures ... which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol." Calling Iran a "special verification case," the BoG said this requires an expansion in the "limited" legal authority of the IAEA to conduct inspections. Specifically, this must include "access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military owned workshops and research and development locations." In this way, the road has been cleared for an Inspection Raj of the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC type, which, even after physically checking every possible location in Iraq several times over, never had the ability to say Baghdad possessed no weapons of mass destruction. The resolution's demand for access to individuals is also a bit rich, considering that the source of the technology Iran is suspected of possessing — A.Q. Khan — is sitting pretty in Pakistan, beyond the reach of IAEA inspectors.

Secondly, Iran has been told to resume the suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activity. Unlike all previous resolutions of the BoG which called on Iran to suspend its enrichment, this resolution makes no explicit mention of the voluntary, non-legally binding nature of Iran's commitment to suspend those activities. By this subtle act of elision, a voluntary, non-legally binding undertaking is being elevated to the status of a legally binding commitment. Thirdly, the resolution says Iran must "reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water." This is a new and illegal demand that did not figure in the last resolution passed by the BoG on August 11, 2005, and represents a further shift of the goalpost.

The irony of the Indian capitulation on Iran is that its display of political weakness comes at a time when the U.S. has finally become aware of India's strategic weight and significance and is attempting desperately to harness these for its own ends.

When President George W. Bush offered Dr. Manmohan Singh civilian nuclear cooperation, he did so in full knowledge that India has tended to side with the rest of the developing world on the question of Iran. Either his decision to support India's nuclear industry was taken independently of the Iran equation or it was conditional on New Delhi ditching Tehran both as a source of energy security and as a conduit for the integration of India and Central Asia. If the former is the case, the Manmohan Singh Government had nothing to fear from sticking to its earlier stand of "consensus" in the IAEA BoG. And if it was the latter, then surely this amounts to a hidden — and unacceptable — cost India is now being forced to pay in order to see the nuclear deal through.

Any deal or partnership that hangs on such a slender thread, which attempts forcibly to rewrite India's strategic equations and undermines the country's strategic autonomy cannot possibly be in the national interest. Nuclear power of the kind that might flow from this deal will never be a substitute for hydrocarbons in the medium-term. Even in the long-term, India will depend on gas imports from Iran and Central Asia, preferably via pipeline.

If not today, then five years from now, the logic of India's economic growth will compel a rewriting of the rules of international nuclear commerce for the country — this time not as a concession or favour from the U.S. but as the product of objective market forces. By blackmailing India into voting against Iran, the U.S. hopes to undermine Indo-Iranian economic relations to such an extent that New Delhi becomes a stakeholder in the drive for "regime change" there. How much the world has changed in a year. A country that once condemned the invasion of Iraq and refused to send its soldiers there is today in danger of becoming an accessory to the strangulation and targeting of Iran.

© Copyright 2000 - 2005 The Hindu


Anonymous said...

Ex_PM Vajpayee was given rousing welcome in Iranian Majlis. Iran angered Pakistan and offered bonanza to India in lieu of support to one developing country under American sanctions.
UPA governemnt has proved to be one of lacky of US. Chavez of Venezuela can provide right example to our spineless ruling class.

Anonymous said...

Vikram Sood

I could not agree more with what has been said in this article. Even the earlier three part series on the so-called WMDs of Iran was marvellous stuff. It was logical and it is difficult to refute this just as it is easy to see through the game being played.
Some of our arguments in favour of Iran were that since Iran never supported us we should not suport Iran. In that case we should not be supporting the US also because they have all along favoured Pakistan and who can forget 1971 when the Nixon-Kissinger duo were determined to hurt India. And then there are so many other instances.
Or even with Pakistan itself. After all they have unabashedly carried out terrorism in India. And opposed us every where. Iran never did anything to sponsor terrorism in India, unlike Saudis with their funds to various organisations being run by Pakistan.
Another argument is that we will weaken our case against AQ Khan and non-proliferation. The powers that be are not interested in pursuing the proliferator these days and there is precious little we can do.
The whole game is about control and dominance. The WMDs are only an excuse. It is about energy.
And one does not quite
know what or how we are going to gain in all this. One gets the uneasy feeling that we have taken for a ride.
The number of cars in India in 2010 will be 36 times that in 1990. How will be run them?
Now that Iran has cancelled the $7.5 billion LNG deal with GAIL, it would also mean that the total deal worth $50 billion including exploration rights in Iran has been cancelled.

Anonymous said...

Dude India's opinion
India has finally started thinking out of the box and being practical with its national interests. India and its foreign policy have risen above getting elated about nothing more substantial than rousing receptions (in Majlis and elsewhere) and ("God knows if I am going to last so long to keep it") promises. India has got real at last and is able to predict future better and plan accordingly. Iran would be part of The Dude's Empire (I am sure everyone knows who the Dude is) soon and all Russia,China and the other whiners would do is just some posturing followed by whining ending in accepting the new reality as has happenned in the case of Iraq. Talking of noise makers like Venezuela's Chavez, all they are capable of making is just that (noise). All of them could not put even one soldier to face 'The coalition of the Willing' when it started putting 'boots on the ground' in Basra and then proceeded to take Baghdad.
It is better to change as per the times than wait until one is forced to do so overnight as India's good neighbor Pakistan had to do in the case of Afghanistan and Taliban. It is better to have nuclear and hydrocarbon fuel from stable democracies than to have promises of oil and gas in 2009 or later from a government (or regime) that does not know if it is going to last beyond 2006.

Anonymous said...

The great nation of India has, through a dangerously faulty foreign policy, lost its prominent status of a rising geopolicitical giant in that important region and indeed in the world. India has not only put at risk its long term energy needs, but let slide into the bin of history the respect it once enjoyed as a non-aligned power that did not bow to any foreign political pressure. By siding with the dangerous necons against a friendly and important neighbour with close civilisational and political links, Indian Government has simply sold out its hard-earned respect and political clout in exchange of a few bars of chocolates from a country that has long been losing its political credibility.

Let's not forget how the US let its friendship and close ties with the previous dictatorial regime of Iran evaporate in the false hope of better serving its own interest.

As an Iranian expatriate of over 30 years who once lived in the wonderful country of India, I, along with many other Iranians, am deeply disappointed with the political shortsightedness of the current Indian Government.

Anonymous said...

I am suprised at how stubborn and ignorant people can be. It has been decades of this foolish foreign policy that India has pursued by being "NON-ALIGNED". Heck! we sided with a bunch of commies and socialists and see where it got us!. Finally Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wants to show the country some light by being correctly aligned with the west. The choice is simple: choose the democratic, secular, capitalist west which can help us with technology give us more business and a better life for most of our citizens . OR join these fundamentalist iranians who export terrorists and hate. Jeez the choice is simple and clear. I'm very happy that we sided with the Americans. May India and America be stronger friends and trade partners. Its time to wake up and choose your friends correctly. By the way, so what if we can't get gas from the Iranians? Its a short term solution to a long term problem of feeding our energy needs. We dont need the Iranians anyway.

Anonymous said...

How does this move hurt India's energy security, may I ask?

There are over 200 western companies doing business in Iran right now (according to Bloomberg news).
Do you think that the Iranians will kick them out because of the way their governments voted? Of course not.
The Iranians will do what is in their national interest, which is to allow western companies to develop their oil fields.
It is high time that India started to do what is in her national interest, rather than foolishly follow the NAM; an organization of a bunch of poor and corrupt countries that, unfortunately will most likely remain that way forever.

Anonymous said...

Iran supports terrorist origanizations throughout the world which actively kill thousands of innocent people. If such a regime obtains nuclear weapons, it will be a major threat to global peace and security.
If Iran gives up its support of terrorism, and allows inspections of their nuclear facilities as they are obliged to do under the NPT, then we won't have a problem.
The ball is very much in Iran's court.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous (one post up):

When one takes seriously what the major corporate media (such as CNN etc) propagate in the name of news, it is not surprising that what is naively swallowed will be regurgitated by many who are totally ignorant of historical facts.

While, in the absence of any international support for the millions of defencelss Palestinians under the brutal occupation of Israel for several decades, Iran supports the freedom fighters in Palestine, there has been no shred of evidence that any Iranian has taken place in any terrorist acts around the world against any nation. All of the terrorists taking part in the tragic destruction of the twin towers in NY, for instance, were all in fact from Saudi Arabia.

If you bother to read at least a paragraph or two of contemporary political history, preferably from the non-main stream media outlets, you may get a clue of atrocious terrorist acts carried out by the states such as USA in the name of promoting their own brand of democracy and with the evil intention of exploiting yet another smaller country. To remind and educate you of at least one such terrorist act, what comes to mind is the coup d'etat (conspired by the US administration) carried out in Chile in the early 70s and coincidentally on September 11! In case you didn't know, that was the day when the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was attacked and eliminated, only to pave the way for a brutal dictator, the notorious American lackey, Agusto Pinochet, to come to power to carry out the orders of the then US administration of Nixon/Kissinger. That's right, uninformed anonymous, the people of Chile have had their own very dark and tragic 9/11, but which not many know or care to know about. There are many more such acts to mention, but I'll leave that to your sense of curiosity to find out (that is if and when you are not watching CNN or other infotainment programs.

So, please don't just call Iran the country that sponsors international terrorism. Iranians are a peaceful people who have been terribly misunderstood. And all their demands regarding access to the peaceful use of nuclear energy (as detailed in the article) are absolutely within international laws. But in the face of unacceptable demands by the US and EU, Iran is one country that dares stand up to superbullying powers, while many other nations (and sadly now India) line up to kowtow to.

So with all due respect, just get your facts right before mouthing off stereotypical rehtorics already and repeatedly circulated by the mouthpieces of the US and their many lackeys.

Anonymous said...

India is finally looking out for its own interest. If India has lost the respect it enjoyed from non-aligned countries so be it. It will more than make up for it in greater self respect as it moves its people out of poverty. On one hand you have Iran and on the other the most powerful country in the world. Who do you want to be friends with. Who are you more willing to pissing off. And this is not about fear it is about an emerging friendship between the US and India. A partnership requires that both parties give and take equally. India requires investment while america desires security.

And to think that India will become a slave to the US is absurd. The primary reason for the US reaproachment with India is China, not Iran. We are at a cruxial time in Indian History. One which sees us being courted by most of the major powers in the world, because they see the potential of a future power. We need to see who will best help us realize that potential and that is not Iran. If we feel that we are becoming beholden to the US for the alms they hand out, we can just lean on China or perhaps a Sino-Russian alliance.

Yes, our foreign policy will be affected by an alliance with the US for the medium term, but the long term benefits are surely worth it, and if they aren't we can always go back to Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai.

"This is chess not checkers" -training day

Anonymous said...

Along with India's recent military pact with the USA, this vote reveals that "democratic" India has now fully joined the true Axis of Evil led by the USA.

No greater example of India's self-serving treachery is the pathetic way that many supporters of this vote attempt to rationalize it by:

1). Mindlessly repeating American/Western propaganda about Iranian "weapons of mass destruction" or terrorism--despite the fact that this Joseph Goebels-style lie has already been discredited with respect to Iraq! In fact, the WMD/terrorism issue is a phony issue, a fraud, a propaganda pretext to justify the American Axis of Evil's wars of aggression and colonization of nations that either possess oil or are opposed to Imperialist Americanism around the world.

2). Invoking a calculating and predatory version of Indian "national self-interest" to justify this shameless vote. What these people mean by "national interests" is simply code for the interests of the *Indian bourgeousie* or Capitalist class. These interests are those of gangsters and thugs, who disguise themselves behind claptrap about "spreading freedom and democracy."

In fact, it is appropriate that one poster above quotes a line from the Hollywood flick _Training Day_

That line is spoken by a LAPD cop who--despite his veneer of authority and upholder of the rule of law--is a thug in everything but name and ultimately reaches his demise in a bloody death.

Let us hope that the modern day global gangsters of the American Axis receive a similar deserved fate.

Anonymous said...

Nasser you seem to have the privelage of being able to say we don't need aid and investment from the american axis of evil, especially on a computer requiring internet. So it is interesting to see you use the indian capatilist class as a guise for your pride.

Anonymous said...

India has learned all to well from its former British colonial master, and is cozying up to England and the USA as a fellow Anglo-Imperialist nation.

This is the broader geopolitical reason why India sided with the US and England in the IAEA vote, beyond the particulars of the IAEA's case itself.

Anonymous said...

why should India care for Iran ?
After all Iranians have stood by pakistanis during ALL of their wars with india. jordanians and iranians went as far as to loan pakistanis air planes during the 1971 war with pakistan.
In 1965 iranians offered pakistanis air strips for fighter palanes so taht in case indians bomb their runways they have alternates.
Siding with US will send the WORLD a clear message either you play REALPOLITK with indian concern OR AGAINST indian concerns.