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India's dilemma

India's dilemma

india Updated: Apr 10, 2006 17:50 IST

India is in a catch-22 situation as far as its stand on referring the Iran nuclear issue to the UN Security Council (UNSC) is concerned. This is inspite of the fact that in September last year, India voted against Iran on the IAEA resolution in Vienna, which was a step in the direction of referring the issue to the UNSC.

India feels that it played a constructive role in the IAEA and helped safeguard Iran's legitimate interests. In the explanation, India stated that it did not believe Iran was in non-compliance or that the Iranian nuclear programme had given rise to questions that were within the competence of the Security Council.

For India, the stakes are high on both sides. On the one hand, never has the US Congress been so important for New Delhi as it is now. It alone can grant approval of a deal signed last July by US President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to share nuclear materials, including fuel and reactors, to help energy-starved India.

Under the deal, to be ratified by the US Congress, Washington will lift sanctions on dual-use technology trade with India for which New Delhi will have to separate its civilian and military nuclear establishments.

For US, India's growing strategic importance for an American administration eager to check Chinese dominion over Asia is important. Then the lure of the Indian market for American companies. And last but not the least the emergence of Indian-Americans as an increasingly engaged political bloc.

On the other hand, Iran is among India's most important energy suppliers, and talks are under way to build an ambitious $4 billion pipeline to transport Iranian natural gas to India, via Pakistan.

Till the cold war period India and Iran saw each other with suspicion and mistrust. The two countries came close in early 1990s on the Afghanistan issue.

Both India and Iran supported the Ahmed Shah Masood's Northern Alliance against Taliban. The relationship improved afterwards and in 2003 Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was invited as the chief guest for India's Republic Day celebrations. During his visit he not only signed many energy deals, but also put in place a strategic partnership, which involved joint military exercises and the training of Iran's military forces.

Reports that the two nations had signed a pact giving India access to Iranian airfields in the event of a war with Pakistan rattled Islamabad and the West.

Since then, the relationship has grown in leaps in bounds, with Indian oil majors setting up shop in Iran. Iran is also seen as a gateway to the resource rich Central Asian republics, which India, are keen to gain access to.

Iran's interests in India are also of vital importance. India is the largest market for the natural gas in its southern oilfields. Secondly, by cosying up with India, it hopes to negate some of its international isolation. Thirdly, Iran hopes to benefit from India's expertise in information technology, science and medicine. Iran also hopes a strategic agreement with India will help modernise its defence forces.

First Published: Jan 28, 2006 15:23 IST