By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ Indiaâ€™s decision not to bow to United Statesâ€™ pressure, but instead reject its suggestion of taking up Iranâ€™s nuclear program during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ€™s brief visit, has added a new diplomatic importance to Delhiâ€™s bilateral ties with Tehran. Categorically asserting that India was not under any obligations to take decisions on Iranâ€™s nuclear program, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said: â€œIt is not for me or for Iran to certify… it is for the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to convince themselves whether (Tehranâ€™s program) is peaceful.â€ He made these remarks to media persons at an orientation program for Parliamentary reporting (April 23).
â€œWe are advising Iran that since it is a signatory of NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), it has some obligation to international treaties. We tell the US, do not take on yourself the responsibility whether Iran was manufacturing weapons or not. Leave it to the IAEA, the designated authority,â€ Mukherjee said. His response was in relation to a statement from United States asking India to tell Iran to â€œmeet requirements of the UN Security Councilâ€ on its nuclear program during Ahmadinejadâ€™s visit (April 29).
The US State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington: â€œWe would hope that the Indian government, or any government that was engaging with the Iranians, including with President Ahmadinejad, would call on him to meet the requirements that the Security Council and the international community has placed on him in terms of suspending their uranium enrichment activities and complying with other requirements regarding their nuclear programâ€ (April 21).
In response to a question on this statement, the Indian external affairs ministry spokesman said: â€œOur attention has been drawn to a comment made by the official spokesman of the US State Department concerning the visit of President Ahmadinejad of Iran to India. India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries. Both nations are perfectly capable of managing all aspects of their relationship with the appropriate degree of care and attentionâ€ (April 22).
â€œNeither country needs any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations as both countries believe that engagement and dialogue alone lead to peace. It is important that the genius of each nation living in a particular region is respected and allowed to flower to meet the expectations of enriching relations with neighbors,â€ he said.
Legislators, particularly the ones belonging to Left bloc, raised the issue in both Houses of Parliament (April 23). In the Lok Sabha, legislator Rupchand Pal (Communist Party of India-Marxist) described the US statement as â€œaudacious and arrogant.â€ It amounted to an â€œinfringement on Indiaâ€™s sovereign position,â€ Pal said during the Zero Hour. With the US â€œpressurizing India on how it should conduct its bilateral relations with Iran, the government should make a statement in Parliament denouncing the (US) statement,â€ Pal said. The Indian external affairs ministry spokesman had â€œrightly rebuffedâ€ the American suggestion, he said.
In the Rajya Sabha, the Left and UNPA (United National Progressive Alliance) legislators asked the government to summon the US ambassador to India and register its protest against â€œunsolicitedâ€ suggestion of Washington.
Brinda Karat (CPI-M) raised the issue during the Zero Hour saying that India should deal firmly with United States. The US statement reflected â€œthe imperialist arrogance of a self-appointed world policeman. We condemn this statement in the strongest term,â€ Karat said.
Describing response of ministry of external affairsâ€™ spokesman as â€œappropriate,â€ Karat said: â€œIt is not enough.â€ â€œThe US Ambassador (to India) does need to be summoned to express our disapproval,â€ she said.
The US suggestion on India cooperating with it to contain Iranâ€™s nuclear program amounted to Washington considering Delhi its junior partner in matters of foreign policy, Karat said.
Demanding summoning of the US envoy to India David Mulford, to convey Indiaâ€™s â€œstrong displeasure,â€ Karat said this was essential as the present government had â€œunfortunately blemishedâ€ Indiaâ€™s record by voting twice against Iran in IAEA. The US State Department had thought it fit â€œindulge in another act of gross interferenceâ€ in Indiaâ€™s relations with other countries, Karat said.
With Iran a signatory to NPT, its nuclear program was under international safeguards, Karat said. Karatâ€™s demand for summoning the US envoy was supported by other Left legislators and those belonging to UNPA.
Earlier in the week, voicing Indiaâ€™s decision of not getting involved in â€œconflict diplomacyâ€ with Iran, Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) M.K. Narayanan said: â€œIn dealing with Iran, we are better poised and better placed than anyone else but we do not necessarily have to be a part of a compact of certain countries.â€ â€œPlease do not treat Iran like any other (nation). It is a big country, it is a major country with tremendous influence. You need to deal with it diplomatically,â€ he said.
â€œSanctions or military action — none of them is a lasting solution that will only exacerbate the situation. We need to evolve something that involves Iran,â€ according to Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.
Drawing attention to the need of a change in how the world looks at non-proliferation, Menon favored a new international consensus on the issue. As sanctions and military action will only â€œexacerbateâ€ the situation, â€œWe need to have in place a system to which Iran is party,â€ Menon said.
Fairly alarmed at the strong stand taken by India, Washington softened its stand. US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia said later in the week that US had only stated its policy by making the suggestion to New Delhi regarding Tehran. He stated: â€œI donâ€™t think it was pointing a finger at India. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s as big an issue as itâ€™s made out to be. It is up to every country to determine for itself how itâ€™s going to organize its bilateral relations.â€