Washington, Sept. 25: New Delhi acquitted itself reasonably well in the first significant challenge to its global standing and diplomacy since the world acknowledged India as an emerging global power worthy of being in the big league in the 21st century.
The handling of the challenge ' its vote on whether Iran’s nuclear programme should be referred to the UN Security Council ' was all the more commendable because its outcome defied domestic political expediency.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally cleared the decision to vote with the US and the so-called EU-3, namely Germany, France and the UK, in favour of referring Iran at an unspecified date to the Security Council on suspicions of pursuing a programme to acquire nuclear weapons in the full knowledge that the vote would spark a furore among Left parties and to a lesser extent in the BJP.
In deciding to vote with the West and not abstaining along with Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa, what weighed with the Prime Minister was the absolute imperative for India to secure its interests in the Gulf and not the desire to protect the July 18, 2005, Indo-US nuclear agreement, according to diplomats engaged in the negotiations that led to the IAEA resolution yesterday.
Top-ranking Americans have told equally top-ranking Indians in recent weeks that the US has plans to invade Iran before Bush’s term ends. In 2002, a year before the US invaded Iraq, high-ranking Americans had similarly shared their definitive vision of a post-Saddam Iraq, making it clear that they would change the regime in Baghdad.
On the last day of his stay in New York this month, Singh made public his fears for the safety of nearly four million Indians in the Gulf in the event of diplomacy failing to persuade Iran away from a confrontation with the US and others on the nuclear issue.
Singh knows that whatever he has done on the economic front in the last year and a half as Prime Minister and much of what he did as finance minister in the 1990s will be under threat if the Gulf was plunged into another war.
In talks with leaders in the US, Russia and Europe, Singh has linked India’s energy security and its comfortable balance of payments to stability in the Gulf. That squarely put India against Iran acquiring nuclear weapons in violation of its own international commitment under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).
In his conversation with Singh on Friday, Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, made it clear that Iran would no longer be bound by the IAEA’s “additional protocol” allowing its inspectors into the country if it was referred to the Security Council.
Such an action would have been only a few steps away from an Iranian withdrawal from the NPT itself, which would have created a grave international crisis. Through other channels, the Iranians also told India that they would start uranium enrichment from a second nuclear facility if the Security Council was brought into the issue.
In the light of these developments, foreign secretary Shyam Saran in New York and India’s permanent representative to the UN in Vienna, Sheel Kant Sharma, engaged in marathon talks with the Americans and Europeans right upto the actual vote last night to ensure that Iran was dealt with in the IAEA and not hauled before the Security Council immediately.
South Block’s recommendation that India should vote for the resolution was put before the Prime Minister after the EU-3 approached India in New York on Friday night.
French, German and British officials assured Saran then that India’s insistence on dealing with Iran in the IAEA ' at least till the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in November ' had been accommodated. The EU-3 also assured India that IAEA director-general Mohamed El Baradei would continue to have the whiphand on the issue.
Iran is understood to have assured India privately after last night’s vote that it would resume negotiations with the IAEA. But in Tehran’s world of doublespeak, it is also expected to whip up popular sentiment by publicly railing against the IAEA resolution.