Washington, Jan. 14: A visit by the third-ranking US state department official to New Delhi on January 19-20, which would have finalised the dates and itinerary for President George W. Bush’s travel to India, has come under a cloud with Iran once again taking the centrestage of diplomacy in Washington.
Nicholas Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, was to have spent two days in New Delhi, primarily ironing out the Bush visit and the next steps in the Indo-US nuclear deal of July 18, 2005, with foreign secretary Shyam Saran.
But with Iran suddenly raising the stakes on its nuclear programme, Burns now hopes to arrive in India with a mandate from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P-5) plus Germany for international action against Iran for advancing its nuclear programme.
The Burns trip to South Asia was pre-arranged, but a new dimension to it was added yesterday when it was announced here that prior to his arrival in New Delhi, the under-secretary will meet his counterparts from the P-5 and Germany in London on Monday to discuss the possibility of referring Iran to the UN Security Council.
India’s vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year in favour of such a referral became a hot potato for the Manmohan Singh government and pitted the Left parties against their friends in the ruling UPA.
At a joint press conference here with Germany’s new chancellor Angela Merkel, Bush yesterday reiterated his desire to see Iran hauled up before the Security Council, insisting that it was “part of the diplomatic process, started by Germany, France, and Great Britain representing the interests of a lot of countries like ourself (and India), which made it abundantly clear to the Iranians that the development of the know-how and our (sic!) ' a nuclear weapon was unacceptable.”
Merkel said the EU-3 (Germany, France and the UK) “actually did everything we could” to move Iran away from the path of confrontation on the nuclear issue.
But she said: “They refused it ' Iran refused every offer we made, even the Russian offer. Now we refer this matter back to the board of governors of the IAEA.”
Merkel, however, indicated that instead of an outright refer to the Security Council, Berlin’s preference was for the IAEA board of governors to “do their utmost to try to enlist as large a number of member states to join in on a proposal that will then be made to the Iranians, and I think this is going to be absolutely crucial for the Iranians to see how serious we are about all of this”.
Even before Burns has packed his bags for travelling to New Delhi, India’s next vote in the IAEA has become a hot topic here. Asked about it at his daily briefing, state department spokesman Sean McCormack said: “Certainly, Iran is going to be an important topic that he (Burns) discusses with the Indian government.
“Last time around at the board of governors, they (Indians) voted with other countries to find Iran in non-compliance. And this, at the upcoming emergency session of the board of governors, we will see how these other countries vote. We are not going to pre-judge how any particular country is going to vote at this time, but as the secretary (of state Condoleezza Rice) has said, we believe we have the votes in the IAEA board of governors to send this matter to the Security Council.”
Notwithstanding the injection of Iran into the Burns-Saran dialogue, the two officials are expected to finalise the US President’s programme in India.
India’s ambassador to the US, Ronen Sen, has just returned from India after providing his inputs on the presidential visit and the nuclear deal to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others in the government.