08 February 2007

India sees speedy IAEA verification as the way forward on Iran

New Delhi anxious for the nuclear file to be resolved quickly.

8 February 2007
The Hindu

Iran issue: India sees speedy IAEA verification as the way forward

Siddharth Varadarajan

Tehran: India's repeated emphasis on the importance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) taking charge of the Iranian nuclear file represents an attempt to reclaim a once surrendered middle position in the looming confrontation between Tehran and Washington.

During his two-day visit here, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee repeatedly emphasised the need for dialogue as a solution to the nuclear issue. Though his opposition to the use of military force was intended to send a message to Washington, Indian officials say he had a line of advice for all the Iranian leaders he met as well: only Iran's active cooperation with IAEA verification efforts could help to defuse the growing tension. The two qualities he commended most often — in public and private — were flexibility and restraint.

The nuclear issue was the primary topic of discussion in the meeting between Mr. Mukherjee and Ali Larijani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

According to Indian sources, Mr. Larijani, who serves as pointperson for Iran's nuclear negotiations with the European Union, made three categorical points. First, that Iran had no intention of developing nuclear weapons and that its nuclear programme was entirely peaceful.

Second, that Iran was prepared to clear all outstanding questions the IAEA had on its nuclear programme. Third, that Iran would never accept a dialogue that was based on pre-conditions.

Senior Indian officials speaking on background said it was difficult to disagree with the Iranian stand on pre-conditions and that a diplomatic way had to be found to restart the dialogue process.

India voted against Iran at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna in September 2005, thereby helping to send the Iranian nuclear file out of the hands of the IAEA and into the court of the United Nations Security Council.

Despite the caustic remarks Iranian officials had made in the past about the Indian vote and about how the United States was bending the international non-proliferation rules to favour India, Mr. Mukherjee's interlocutors sought a briefing on the status of the India-U.S. nuclear deal. They also encouraged New Delhi to play a bigger role in helping to resolve Tehran's face-off with Washington.

For now, however, India is wary of getting involved. "Quite frankly, there are too many players with their finger in this already and we are not really into mediation," a senior Indian official speaking on background said. "This is something the two principals really have to sort out for themselves." But the official said India was anxious for the nuclear file to be resolved quickly. "When we say Iran is a factor of stability in the region, we really mean it," he said. "There is Afghanistan, other areas. There is energy. But the longer this nuclear problem drags on, the more difficult it will be for us or anybody to do business with Iran. So it is important to close the file quickly."

Even though the Security Council was seized of the situation, its continuing involvement would depend on the reports provided to it by the IAEA Director-General. "If Iran can resolve the questions the IAEA still has, then the report would be favourable," the official said.

The official said the Iranian side welcomed the emphasis India was placing on the central role of the IAEA and assured Mr. Mukherjee that they were working to provide all the information the agency's inspectors wanted. "We said that India believed this is the way to go forward," the official said. Once the outstanding issues were resolved, the pressure to sanction Iran would end.
On their part, Iranian officials are not so sure the U.S. is concerned about those outstanding issues any more, since the principal demand made by Washington and the UNSC is that Iran unconditionally suspend all its nuclear fuel cycle activities.

Time out

Asked at a joint press conference with Mr. Mukherjee about IAEA Director-General Mohammed el-Baradei's recent suggestion of a "time out" in the stand-off between Iran and the UNSC, Iran's Foreign Minister said there were "differing interpretations" about what the phrase meant. "Usually the term `time-out' is used in sports for the players to take a breather. So we are not sure what it means in this case," said Manouchehr Mottaki. Iran, he noted, had declared before that it was in favour of negotiations without preconditions. "Of course we are open to all suggestions and ideas which are raised in the course of negotiations," he added. "What is important is the non-proliferation regime. If we all support the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, then this could provide us the basis of a solution. And suspension of a legal right like enrichment is not all that important."

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