Washington, Oct. 22: An olive branch now being extended to New Delhi to reconsider sanctions against two Indian scientists ' Y.S.R. Prasad and C. Surendar -- may be a ploy by Washington to get the Manmohan Singh government to reveal the full extent of the wide-ranging cooperation that exists between India and Iran.
Bush administration officials are now categorically telling reporters in Washington in background briefings that they are willing to re-examine the penalties imposed on the two men who once headed the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
The concession, according to sources here, has also been conveyed during meetings between Christina Rocca, the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, and officials in New Delhi this week.
Questioned on the record soon after their names appeared on the Federal Register of sanctioned entities, state department officials were beating about the bush, merely hinting that protestations of innocence by the two men may be looked into.
Momentum here in favour of a review of the sanctions against Prasad and Surendar gathered speed this week after national security adviser J.. Dixit concluded a three-day visit to Tehran on October 19.
The visit made it clear that the Manmohan Singh government would not turn back from the wide-ranging cooperation that India has built with Iran, although President George W. Bush has made the Islamic government in Tehran a part of his infamous 'axis of evil'.
Dixit's visit has worried Washington because he is the author of a historic change in India's policy towards Iran during the years from 1992 to 1994 when he was foreign secretary.
The change weaned Iran's mullahs away from Pakistan and culminated in 1994 in unprecedented support by Iranian diplomats for India at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva against Pakistan.
The Iranians persuaded Pakistan to withdraw its resolution in Geneva on Kashmir, which had a fair chance of passing. If the resolution had passed, it would have been a permanent thorn in India's side like the notorious UN resolution on Kashmir plebiscite, adopted shortly after India's partition.
Bush administration officials who have been briefing reporters this week about the possibility of letting Prasad and Surendar off the hook plainly say their offer is conditional: India must provide irrefutable proof that they were not involved in any A.Q. Khan-type of shenanigans with Tehran.
The catch there is that once India takes this bait and starts sharing information with the Americans, administration officials here will keep insisting that the proof provided to them is inconclusive and that more information is needed.
Typically, they will keep digging until they can get everything they are seeking about Indo-Iranian relations. All the while, they will provide no guarantees that the two Indian scientists will be relieved of the sanctions.
What the Americans have in mind is the kind of diplomatic arm-twisting the Third World nations are familiar with.
Once the process of sharing information with the Americans is set in motion, India will also not be in control of its media fallout.
On any day. the state department's spokesman can get up on his podium and get international media attention on the issue by saying that New Delhi has failed to provide proof of the innocence of the two men.
Already, the Americans have said that New Delhi was consulted prior to the sanctions, but that it failed to respond. Effectively, this has put the ball in India's court.
One American official with experience of how things are done in New Delhi told this correspondent: 'These guys (Prasad and Surendar) are no regular guys. They have clout in Delhi. They will do the job of arm-twisting there into giving us the dope we are looking for.'
In order to tighten the screws on India, officials have discreetly circulated speculation this week that more Indian entities would be sanctioned after the November 2 election for alleged ties with Iran.