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Mulford effect: India plans to abstain from Iran vote

"We cannot vote with the US after his comments. We're planning to abstain," top Indian officials said.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2006 18:44 IST

India plans to abstain from a vote on Iran's nuclear programme at a meeting of the UN's atomic watchdog this week, top Indian officials said on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board is due to hold an emergency session in Vienna on Thursday to consider sending Iran to the UN Security Council for sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme.

The US Ambassador to India, David Mulford, said last week that if India did not oppose Tehran at the IAEA, a landmark India-US nuclear cooperation pact could be in trouble.

"We cannot vote with the US after his comments. We're planning to abstain," one senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, informed a news agency.

Although Mulford later said he had been quoted out of context and expressed regret, his remarks triggered a domestic furore with allies in Manmohan Singh's ruling coalition and opposition groups accusing the government of selling out to Washington.

"We are still hoping the crisis won't go to a vote and Iran will get some more time to resolve it through talks," said the official. "But if it does, then Ambassador Mulford has made it easy for us."

The official said India backed a Russian compromise plan under which Moscow would enrich Iranian uranium fuel, a proposal backed by China.

Reluctance from veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China over imposing economic sanctions on Iran threaten to undermine US and European plans for tough action against Tehran.

Hurt India-US deal?

India and Iran have historically been on good terms.

But New Delhi surprised the world in September by supporting Washington at a IAEA vote that declared Iran had failed to comply with its international obligations.

India's abstention now could slow down closing a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United States under which Washington has promised to help New Delhi boost its atomic programme to meet its growing energy needs, an Indian foreign ministry official said.

"We know that this could create problems in the US Congress but we don't seem to have many options now," the official said. "We will explain our compulsions to our interlocutors."

The India-US atomic deal seeks to reverse a nearly 30-year-old ban on nuclear cooperation with New Delhi, which has tested nuclear weapons, and needs the approval of US Congress.

Both sides have been confident about clinching it ahead of visit to India by President George W Bush in March although details of the accord are still to be negotiated, including a crucial plan to separate India's civil and military nuclear facilities.

Singh, who also holds the portfolio of foreign minister, said his government would not be pressured into doing anything that hurt national interests.

"We will do what is right for our country. India's national interest is our prime concern. Whether it is domestic or international policy, we will not act under pressure on anything," Singh was quoted as telling reporters.

First Published: Jan 30, 2006 16:06 IST