Saturday, September 8, 2007

An illicit affair? : India-Iran-US relations

Walking a tightrope on the Iran nuclear issue India reiterated its stance that “Iran has the right to develop peaceful use of nuclear energy while fulfilling all its international commitments and obligations”. India finds itself in an enviable position. A non-signatory of the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT) with an active and known military nuclear program, it has recently received support from the Whitehouse for a new nuclear cooperation agreement. Iran on the other hand, a signatory to the NPT, has had to go shopping for support of its uranium enrichment. Iran has been threatened with sanctions, if not actual violence although there is no clear evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Many regard India’s response towards Iran supposed threat as “tepid”, unsubstantial or even supportive.
It is easy to demonize Iran based on its past actions and unsubstantiated chemical and nuclear threat. But the present Iraq debacle must require the world to tread carefully and with some hesitation when it comes to responding to a country that spouts more rhetoric than true harm.
Either India truly considers Iran’s intentions to be benign or it considers maintaining positive ties with Iran too important to its strategic political and energy needs. The leftist parties supporting the government will see ostracizing Iran as strong alignment with the US and a weakening of India’s sovereignty in its foreign policy. They have already been vociferous in their opposition to India’s vote against Iran at the UN. India and Iran also have cooperated to secure their interests in Afghanistan as both see the Islamic extremism growing out of the country as a threat to their own. India-Iran commercial relations are dominated by Indian imports of Iranian crude oil, accounting for roughly 85% of Indian imports from Iran each year. There is also the proposed construction of a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan to meet India’s growing energy needs.

By maintaining and strengthening ties with Iran the Indian government has made an attempt to secure both its political future and the country’s energy and security demands. But by voting against Iran to bring its nuclear program before the UN Security council, it has also exhibited its intent to reprimand Iran if it veers from international laws it has signed on to. Under pressure both from within its borders and from the US, India has chosen a responsible non-confrontational path that regardless of its motivation is consistent with its emergence as a global powerhouse.

References: Commentary by Harsh V Pant (for ISN Security Watch (May 30, 2007), India, Iran and US Nuclear Hypocrisy by David Krieger (National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2006), India's Tough Choice on Iran By Sadanand Dhume (Special to's Think Tank Town, August 11, 2007), India-Iran Relations and U.S. Interests by Alan Kronstadt & Kenneth Katzman Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division (CRS Report)

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