Will India be able to stomach a clause in the US nuclear legislation calling it to “actively” take part in US and international efforts to “dissuade and contain Iran for its nuclear programme”, even though it would be called on to act within the limits of the UN Security Council resolutions?
Senior government officials say the clause itself is irrelevant as it will not find a place in the 123 Agreement which India would sign. “We will not be bound by anything that is not in the agreement,” said an official negotiating the deal. The agreement will be the practical procedural measure that would regulate civil nuclear cooperation between India and the US and will not have the peripheral clauses that has ruffled feathers in India.
The Iran measure, being backed by Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos, is part of the domestic debate in US politics about managing the consequences of the Iraq war and Iranian threat to Israel. Varun Sahni, a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said this was a two-level game where in democratic polities, “something in their domestic level will impact your domestic politics”. In this case, he said, the Lantos measure affects an uneasy Indian position on the issue, which is a mixture of the party’s historical West Asia policy aimed at keeping on the right side of the country’s Muslim minority and the orthodox “anti-imperialist” stance of the Left against the US.
Under such circumstances, he said, trying to explain the intricacies of US legislative processes is a lost cause, as it is not so much a matter of ignorance as it is of politics. “Any notion of the US telling us how to deal with the Iranians, Chinese or French usually evokes a bad reaction in India anyway,” he added. While US Congress is playing out its domestic politics on the Indo-US nuclear legislation, the Indian record on supporting the US on Iran is quite impressive.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on record saying India does not want another nuclear weapons power in its neighbourhood. A report by the US Congressional Research Service claims “India and Iran appear to have engaged in very limited nuclear, chemical and missile-related transfers”. But it also concedes that India agreed to supply a 10 MW nuclear research reactor to Teheran in 1991, “but cancelled under US pressure”.
The report provides sketchy details of alleged Indian infractions. It, however, does not mention that in 1992, India turned down Iranian requests for closer defence ties.