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What changed post-2003?

On Republic Day 2003, President Khatami of Iran shared the podium with his Indian counterpart as Chief Guest. In August 2005, a proposed visit by newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to materialize. What has changed since Khatami?s high profile visit?

india Updated: Feb 19, 2006 23:13 IST

On Republic Day 2003, President Khatami of Iran shared the podium with his Indian counterpart as Chief Guest. In August 2005, a proposed visit by newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to materialize. What has changed since Khatami’s high profile visit?

In August 2003, the IAEA reported that Iran had hidden a uranium enrichment programme for 18 years. Two years of diplomacy by the Europeans, and largely unsuccessful Russian negotiations, have brought Indo-Iranian relations under strain. Things worsened after India’s nuclear deal with the US in July 2005 and have deteriorated further during the current nuclear crisis. Of late, Iran has been on the Indian radar for either the hardening of postures in IAEA meetings or for negotiations on the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that seems to be going nowhere.

In January 2005 Iran showed the IAEA a copy of a document reflecting an offer, made to Iran in 1987 by a foreign intermediary, with drawings and specifications relating to centrifuges crucial for a nuclear weapons programme. India is deeply concerned about Iran’s likely nuclear suppliers: North Korea and Pakistan, and direct links to A.Q. Khan.

 Iran's atomic clock
 2003: IAEA discovers 18-year old covert nuclear programme. lran signs Additional Protocol to the NPT
 2004: Iran agrees to suspend enrichment activities under diplomatic pressure from EU
 2005: Iran rejects EU offer of incentives. Breaks IAEA seals on Natanz nuclear facility. Warned of a referral to the UNSC. Russia offers to enrich uranium for Iran
 2006: Negotiations with EU-3 fail. IAEA  votes to bring Iran before UNSC. Iran threatens full-scale resumption of enrichment

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uring the Cold War, Iran’s proximity to the US (which ended in 1979) and India’s policy of non-alignment prevented any real convergence between the two. Subsequently, Iran has repeatedly failed to appreciate Indian anxieties regarding Kashmir in international forums like the Organisation for Islamic Conference, and the UN Human Rights Commission. Iranians irked India again at the 1995 NPT Review Conference. Since then, the two countries have agreed only on their opposition to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, a concern pre-dating 9/11.

India-Iran trade is over $3 billion, and India is the seventh largest destination of Iranian exports. In recent years, the proposed gas pipeline from Iran to India has become the main focus of the relationship. In theory, the 3000 km pipeline is expected to provide long-lasting mutual benefits to both countries, but the issue is fraught with strategic and diplomatic problems. It has raised the hackles of the US establishment with which India is pursuing a nuclear and hi- technology deal. Its success depends on approval both by the US Congress and the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers’ Group. India has also been under increasing US pressure over the Iran’s nuclear programme. It voted against Iran at the IAEA in September 2005 and again on February 4, 2006, the latter endorsing a resolution referring Iran to the UN Security Council.

A section of the Indian establishment believes that a ‘nuclear’ Iran, adding to regional insecurity, is detrimental to Indian interests. The flip side is that India is aware of the potential benefits of the beleaguered Indo-Iranian pipeline deal, as also the fact that good Indo-Iranian relations are crucial for regional stability.

Apart from our external relations’ prerogatives, internal compulsions like the sensitivities of India’s large Muslim population, domestic politics, and energy security issues have required a cautious approach to Iran.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s belligerent statements dubbing the holocaust a ‘myth’ and calling for the destruction of Israel, and his defiant tone over the nuclear issue have muddied the waters. Given this backdrop, India has gone with the broad consensus in IAEA over taking the matter to the UN Security Council, because support to Iran at this stage would have been contrary to India’s image as a 'responsible' nuclear power.

First Published: Feb 06, 2006 01:11 IST