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No-choice Delhi votes with US

Washington, Sept. 24: Caught between the devil and deep sea, India today decided to make the best of a bad situation in Vienna by voting with the European Union and the US on a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) requiring Iran to be reported to the UN Security Council at an unspecified date to be in doubt about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.

For South Block, whose Iran operations had virtually moved to New York in the last 10 days, it was one of the most difficult decisions in Indian foreign policy since an equally controversial decision about a decade ago to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

India’s decision on the Iran crisis went through a roller-coaster of ups and downs in the last few days.

At the New York Palace hotel in the Big Apple, foreign secretary Shyam Saran had set up a virtual operations room since prime minister Manmohan Singh returned home on September 16 to work out a decision on the IAEA vote.

There he was joined yesterday by South Block’s pointman for the US, S. Jaishankar. External affairs minister Natwar Singh has also been in New York.

From his temporary operations headquarters in the New York Palace hotel, Saran remained in constant touch with Sheel Kant Sharma, India’s permanent representative to the UN in Vienna, including the IAEA.

How crucial was India’s vote today at the IAEA is obvious from the response of the US delegation to its outcome.

As soon as the vote was over, Matt Boland, spokesman for the US delegation to the IAEA, came out and told reporters that the fact India backed the resolution showed New Delhi shared the “concern with Iran’s established pattern of deception”.

What Boland did not say was that before India voted with the EU and the US, it had engaged in intense negotiations with France, Germany, Britain and the US to ensure that they did not ride roughshod over Iranian interests.

At India’s behest, the Europeans amended their resolution, which initially called for an immediate reference of the Iranian crisis to the UN Security Council.

They also agreed, at India’s request, to give more time within the IAEA for negotiations.

Once these were done, South Block took the view that it would be churlish to vote against a resolution, where Indian concerns have been accommodated.

It also became clear to India as the vote was approaching that only Venezuela would vote against the resolution.

The alternative for India was to abstain, but it was felt that after all the efforts to secure a compromise resolution, it was pragmatic to vote for it rather than to abstain.

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