16 January 2006

India, Iran and the nuclear challenge

Siding again with the U.S. and its allies in their illegal pressure on Iran will weaken India's hand on the civil nuclear cooperation and energy fronts.

16 January 2006
The Hindu

India, Iran and the nuclear challenge

Siddharth Varadarajan

IN THE next few weeks, the Manmohan Singh Government will face its second major test on the Iranian nuclear front. For the United States and its European allies appear determined to refer Teheran to the United Nations Security Council for pursuing a civilian nuclear energy programme in defiance of Washington's diktats. The provocation for the latest western hysteria is Iran's decision to conduct research experiments on uranium conversion and other aspects of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle. These experiments are taking place in facilities that are fully safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Moreover, these activities are in no way prohibited under either the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) or Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, published by the Agency as Infcirc 214.

Article 4 of Infcirc 214 states: "The safeguards provided for in this Agreement shall be implemented in a manner designed: (a) To avoid hampering the economic and technological development of Iran or international co-operation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities, including international exchange of nuclear material; (b) To avoid undue interference in Iran's peaceful nuclear activities, and in particular in the operation of facilities; ... "

It is worth noting that Infcirc 214 — the primary legal covenant governing relations between Iran and the IAEA — explicitly rules out the Agency doing anything that might hamper Iran's technological development in the field of peaceful nuclear activities. Conducting research and experiments on the nuclear fuel cycle clearly falls under this category. Nevertheless, the U.S. as well as Britain, France, and Germany (the so-called European-3 or E-3) now want the IAEA Board of Governors to convene on an emergency basis with the aim of referring Iran to the UNSC for the crime of being in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations.

Under the Safeguards Agreement, Iran is obliged to accept safeguards "on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities ... for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." On its part, the IAEA has "the right and obligation" to ensure that safeguards are applied on all such activities "for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Over the years, Iran (like South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt and a few other countries) had failed to report to the IAEA — and hence ensure safeguards upon — a number of nuclear-related transactions and activities. These instances were thoroughly investigated by the Agency's inspectors and the relevant files on these closed. Thus in his report to the IAEA Board of Governors on September 2, 2005, Director General Mohammed el-Baradei noted that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities." Dr. el-Baradei said, however, that the IAEA was not yet in a position to conclude that there were no "undeclared" nuclear activities taking place in Iran — a reqquirement that stems not from the safeguards agreement but only from the Additional Protocol that Iran said it would voluntarily adhere to in 2003.

Despite this finding, the Board of Governors — acting under the pressure of the U.S. and the E-3 — voted on September 24 last year to find Iran in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement in the context of article XIIC of the IAEA Statute. Conveniently overlooked was the fact that article XIIC, as well as articles 18 and 19 of Infcirc 214, define non-compliance essentially as diversion of safeguarded material for prohibited purposes, something Dr. el-Baradei had explicitly ruled out. As a sop to countries uncomfortable with the manner in which the Iranian question was being unduly politicised, the board decided to keep in abeyance the timing of the referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council mandated under XIIC. However, this sop was meant only as a temporary expedient to be withdrawn at the first convenient moment. And that moment, as far as Washington is concerned, has now arrived.

Given the current composition of the 35-member Board of Governors, the U.S. should have no difficulty in garnering the votes needed to send the Iran docket to the Security Council. Though what will happen after is anyone's guess, the U.N.'s experience with Iraq suggests that coercion and punitive measures do not help matters when it comes to allaying international concerns about the possible presence of illegal nuclear weapon-related facilities in any given country. In Dr. el-Baradei's words, the IAEA is not yet in a position to declare that Iran has "no undeclared nuclear activities or facilities." If the IAEA's inability to make such a declaration were to become grounds for reporting a country to the Security Council and threatening it with sanctions, no less than 106 countries -- as emphasised by the European Union last year -- would have to be put in the dock because they have either not signed or not yet ratified or implemented the Additional Protocol.

If the aim is really to ensure Iran has no undeclared nuclear activities — an urgent and laudable aim, one might add — the best way to accomplish it is to ensure the continuation of IAEA inspections. Sites suspected of hiding clandestine facilities could be targeted for surprise or short-notice inspections. But if the aim is to maintain the veil of ambiguity as a future casus belli, referring Iran to the UNSC would be the logical step to take because Washington is desperate to "trap" Teheran into severing its links with the IAEA or declaring it will no longer allow inspections — the one route through which its innocence can be established.

For the Manmohan Singh Government, the latest drive to refer Iran to the UNSC and impose sanctions as punishment poses a particularly difficult legal and political challenge. In September last year, India voted for the IAEA resolution but also provided an "explanation of vote" in which it stated that it did not believe Iran was in non-compliance or that the Iranian nuclear programme had given rise to questions that were within the competence of the Security Council. Nothing has happened since September to invalidate these two reservations.

If anything, the November 2, 2005, report of Dr. el-Baradei was reasonably upbeat on Iranian cooperation, which was why the E-3 wisely decided not to press for an immediate Security Council referral. And the resumption of safeguarded nuclear research — though marking an end to Iran's voluntary, self-imposed suspension of all fuel cycle-related activity — can hardly be called a violation of IAEA safeguards.

One could, at best, question Teheran's political wisdom in choosing to end this suspension at the present time but not its sovereign right to do so. If India's vote against Iran last year surprised the world and created a political storm at home, voting again now would make a mockery of the country's formally stated positions and question, once again, the Government's commitment to an "independent foreign policy."

This week, when U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns arrives in New Delhi, the Iranian issue is likely to figure almost as prominently as the planned separation of India's civilian and military nuclear facilities. Though motivated by larger strategic considerations, last July's landmark U.S.-India deal on civilian nuclear cooperation is also inextricably linked to the Iran question as far as the Bush administration is concerned. In a press conference on January 5, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could not have been more explicit about the linkage when she was asked about the reasons why the nuclear deal with India was so important to Washington: "We can't say to the Indians on the one hand, you can't — we'd rather you weren't — engaged in energy relations with, for instance, Iran, but by the way, civil nuclear is closed off to you."

Apologists for the first IAEA vote against Iran last September say that if the Americans are insisting on an `either-or', it is in India's interest to choose nuclear cooperation with Washington over hydrocarbons from Iran. What they do not realise is that a country of India's strength has the political and diplomatic ability to get both. What they also do not realise is that the slightest indication of Indian willingness to allow the U.S. to dictate its strategic choices will only lead to Washington trying to extract even more.

India's vote against Iran last year, for example, led the U.S. to try and impose new conditions that ran counter to the letter and spirit of the July 18 nuclear agreement. Among these were the demand that India accept in-perpetuity safeguards and give up its claims — as recognised in that agreement — to exactly the same rights and obligations in the nuclear field as the U.S. With the negotiations on civilian-military nuclear separation keenly poised, the Manmohan Singh Government should resist the temptation to blink for the second time.

© Copyright 2000 - 2006 The Hindu

See also my earlier series of articles on Iran and the IAEA:

The Persian Puzzle I: Iran and the invention of a nuclear crisis (21 September 2005)
The Persian Puzzle II: What the IAEA really found in Iran (22 September 2005)
The Persian Puzzle III: The world must stand firm on diplomacy (23 September 2005)
The unravelling of India's Persian puzzle (27 September 2005)
When bullying is not enough, try disinformation (21 November 2005)

Siddharth Varadarajan won the coveted Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize Silver Medal for excellence in journalism, 2005, for his series of articles on the Iran nuclear issue. The prize is awarded by the United Nations Correspondents Association for coverage of the U.N.


Anonymous said...

The recent spat between Russia and Ukraine on Natural Gas supply is a good example to strengthen the proposition that on core issues such as energy security, India must not rely too much on import of fuel. Projects such as running gas pipe lines between Iran and India or between Myanmar and India are not in India's long-term interest. (The fact that these pipe lines would run via Pakistan and Bangladesh respectively only adds to their inadvisability.)

A concept somewhat similar to MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that is in vogue with respect to armed conflicts and wars, would also be applicable, on the economic front, to certain vital, strategic imports such as fuel required to meet a country's realistic energy needs. India should make it a policy to import strategic material only when it is able export something that is equally strategic to the supplier country. For example, import fuel, but ensure that the Supplier country is heavily dependent on importing Electricity from us!

For India, it would be better to concentrate on developing the resources which are available within our country, and attempt to efficiently make do with what we have, until we find, through well directed and administered R&D, future energy related bonanzas. Recent articles on travails of Uranium prospecting in India by T.S. Subramanian et al in Frontline (Volume: 22, Issue: 27, 13/01/2006, URL:http://www.flonnet.com/fl2227/stories/20060113000806000.htm) point to the real reason why we have had to face failure so far, in our efforts to find energy security. It is not lack of technological ability that is delaying our progress, it is lack of political wisdom and will in an empoverished, and consequently corrupt, (I must say, nevertheless vibrant - the decibel levels and catching practice of odd things such as microphones etc, we see in Parliament at times is the proof) democracy.

Hence, neither Iran-India pipeline, nor import of Uranium (particularly at the expense of national Sovereignty, and progress in high-technology) is in India's interest.

Therefore, India must stare-down the US; no question of blinking!

Anonymous said...

India is an independent country. It should do whats in its best interest. That would be to side with the US.

To defend Iran and say it has the soviergn right to have a nuclear program, is about as good an arguement as to say that its nuclear program is intentioned to take care of energy requirements.

You seem to worry that we will become slaves of US foreign policy. If we side with Iran can't it be argued that we are slaves of Iran's energy reserves? India should do what is in its best interest, and for that to be going agianst the only superpower in the world is very unlikely.

China does not outright annex Taiwon, primarily because of the US. Does that by default make China a junior partner of the US?

Perhaps its time to put economic development over petty issues such as pride.

Vikram Johri said...

i agree that india must not simply bow to US pressure, but siding with iran as a tribute to our erstwhile non-alighnment would be NOT keeping our ear to the ground.

Anonymous said...

If India wants to be a Asian power house and keeps its respect as a leader of non aligned movement, it needs to act indepedent of US. If US and the European cronies push for Sanction on Iran who has been part of the NPT and signatory to IAEA and get away with it. A country like India will end up bowing to US pressure some where down the line. India needs to stay with its neighbors and support an independent policy. Staying with Iran will benefit us in the long term than bowing to US pressure. In 10 years Iran will develope a Bomb anyway no matter what. If we don't play our cards right now and don't support independent policy...Iran will bypass us in future and we will loose this enoromous source of energy which is right next to us. US is in weak position and this is the best time for India to assert its right and remain true to its roots. I am sure Gandi will roll over in his grave if we make one more ugly move like what happened last november when we sided with the Americans....Long live India and independent policy.

Anonymous said...

It is NOT about Iran's nuclear programme. It will take them years to actually produce a nuclear weapon. Why the month of March 2006 for the intended attacks on Iran over this issue? It's because the Iranian Oil bourse will start trading for oil in EUROS instead of the DOLLAR. If that is allowed to happen,think of the consequences to the US overnight when the world starts dumping the DOLLAR for the EURO!So, this action is intended to destabilise Iran and to prevent her from this course of action.

Anonymous said...

The opinions and insights contained by Siddharth are very sound. But it is another matter that the Indian Establishment is hardly bothered about soundness. Otherwise, how else is one to account for the foreign policy driftage for the last twenty-plus years?
What strikes me as most important in this messy Indo-US-Iranian nuclear negotiations is that INDIA HAS LOST THE TRUST OF A NEAR FRIEND AND HAS NOT EARNED THE TRUST OF THE UNITED STATES. In future, the Indians will manage their concerns with the Iranians only in a ritualized manner. India cannot hope to secure confident forward movement on issues of pressing concern from a strategic perspective.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir,
thanks for this outspoken observation: "What they do not realise is that a country of India's strength has the political and diplomatic ability to get both. What they also do not realise is that the slightest indication of Indian willingness to allow the U.S. to dictate its strategic choices will only lead to Washington trying to extract even more."

I took the pleasure to link to your comment here: http://www.studien-von-zeitfragen.net/index.html

Please check under

IAEA, Iran and Atoms for Peace

Best regards
Peter G. Spengler

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