As the battle lines over nuclear weapons are
drawn, India is having to rethink some
relationships, says Venu Menon
India was quick to condemn North Korea’s nuclear
test and back American efforts to build an
international consensus for sanctions against
But Washington will be looking to New Delhi to
display the same
commitment by joining the chorus of voices in the
Security Council against Iran.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has limited
his public pronouncements on Iran to low-pitched
calls for Tehran to abide by its non-proliferation
And while Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has
threatened to pull out of the treaty, his response
was directed at the US, not India.
That could change as India comes under mounting
pressure to abandon its ambivalence on Iran and
adopt a less nuanced approach to an isolated state
intent on pursuing its nuclear programme in the
face of international disapproval.
India says the North Korean test “highlights the
dangers of clandestine proliferation,”
a thinly veiled reference to the sale of uranium
enrichment technology to North Korea by
discredited Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf confirms
this in his recent memoir
In The Line of Fire: “Dr. Khan transferred nearly
two dozen P-1 and P-11 centrifuges to North Korea.
He also provided North Korea with a flow meter,
some special oils for centrifuges, and coaching on
The Pyonyang test is a cautionary tale of
irresponsible proliferation that could plunge Asia
into a full-fledged nuclear arms race. The
collateral damage to India is that it will
inevitably slow the passage of the US-India
nuclear cooperation deal with policymakers in
India does not endorse Washington’s description of
Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism, it
sees no merit in downplaying the threat posed by
proliferation and the scope of weapons of mass
destruction falling into the hands of non-state
groups such as the Jehadi in Kashmir.
With China and Russia joining the US in agreeing
to impose sanctions on Iran, India is in no
position to break ranks and oppose the move in the
Iran has felt let down by India before. Last year,
it voted with the US on an International Atomic
Energy Agency resolution accusing Iran of not
complying with its international obligations.
It was widely seen as the first test of India’s
position on Iran’s nuclear programme. Barely six
months later, Iran was jolted a second time when
India again voted with the majority to refer it to
the Security Council.
Though India insisted its vote against Iran was
not cast under US pressure, many believed its
traditionally close relations with Iran had
suffered a setback.
Before the second vote, America’s US ambassador to
India, David Mulford, caused a stir when he said
the US-India nuclear cooperation deal hinged on
how India voted.
New Delhi took note. In July, the US House of
Representatives cleared the way for civil nuclear
cooperation with India.
India’s IAEA votes indicated it was willing to put
its partnership with Washington over its
friendship with Tehran, and Prime Minister Singh
has left himself open to criticism that he has
forfeited India’s foreign policy independence for
a subservient footing with the US.
Singh is finding it hard to walk the tightrope.
His Blair-like compliance with Bush puts him at
odds with influential leftwing groups which give
his Government its majority in Parliament.
There are also the local Muslims, on whose vote
the coalition government headed by Singh’s Indian
National Congress depends.
The Indian premier’s policy toward Iran has won
approval from the Hindu nationalist Bharitya
Janata Party, India’s main opposition. But Singh
has little use for this backing.
The delicate balance of interests nurtured by New
Delhi has started to unravel. With the IAEA and
Security Council votes, Washington has succeeded
in forcing a re-evaluation of India-Iran ties.
New Delhi’s indulgence of Tehran was motivated by
India-Iran relations hit a high note with the
signing of the New Delhi Declaration in 2003,
raising worries in Washington.
“The United States has made very clear to India
that we have concerns about its relationship with
Iran,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told
the Senate foreign relations committee in April.
The concerns include a proposed gas pipeline to
deliver Iranian natural gas to India through
Pakistan. Washington is worried that India’s
growing dependence on Iran for energy is not
compatible with US policy to isolate Iran and curb
its nuclear programme.
To meet spiralling demand, India has entered into
a slew of agreements with Iran, which is OPEC’s
second-largest oil producer, holding 10 percent of
the world’s proven oil reserves. It also has the
world’s second- biggest natural gas reserves.
But a nuclear Iran is bad news for India as much
as it is for the US. New Delhi will continue to
work for a rollback of Tehran’s nuclear weapons
programme and will continue to do business with
Tehran with an eye on Iran’s oil and natural gas
reserves. But for now, India’s friendship with
Iran is dictated by the United States.
The New Zealand Herald * Thursday, October 19,