At first sight the Indian announcement banning export of all material, equipment and technology that can contribute to Iran’s nuclear programme is a routine measure, in compliance with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 of December 2006. However, its timing, on the last day Iran was expected to comply, would suggest that India wants to convey its own set of messages to Tehran and the United States. The message to the US is that while New Delhi accepts that Tehran has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology, India most certainly does not want another nuclear weapons power in its neighbourhood, and so it remains firmly committed to the non-proliferation camp. As for Tehran, visiting External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had occasion earlier this month to tell its leaders that the issue is best resolved at the IAEA level. But even while urging restraint on all sides, Iran needed to clarify all the verification issues hanging over its head through a transparent process.
Last month IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei proposed a ‘time out’ in which Iran would freeze its activities in exchange for a suspension of the UN sanctions. But Tehran has not responded, even though there is a perceptible reduction in the rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran’s leaders and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have repeatedly underscored the need for talks and negotiations, but they are unwilling to comply with the UNSC directive to stop uranium enrichment.
Now Mr El Baradei must report again to the UNSC, and he cannot but say that Iran has not ceased its activities. This could lead to a tightening of sanctions again and there are credible fears that it could even lead to a build-up towards war. However, a lot of the verbal sparring suggests that the UNSC should perhaps be working on a formula that would incorporate some saving of face in both Washington and Tehran. Sanctions by themselves will not work, and a military option is — or ought to be — unthinkable.