Thursday, September 15, 2005

India Balks at Confronting Iran, Straining Its Friendship With U.S.

The New York Times:


UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 14 - A few months after the United States and India elevated their relationship to a new level with a broad accord, a fresh irritant has disrupted the friendship - the Bush administration's insistence that a reluctant India join in the confrontation over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

India, with a longstanding friendship with Tehran, is demurring.

"The Indians are emerging from their nonaligned status and becoming a global power, and they have to begin to think about their responsibilities," said a senior administration official. "They have to make a basic choice."

The choice being posed to India is to enlist in, or rebuff, the European-led effort to get a majority on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to vote next week to refer the matter of Iran's nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council for possible consideration of sanctions.

Indian officials say they agree that Iran should not be allowed to get nuclear weapons and that it has failed to disclose elements of its program to international inspections. But they say that bringing the issue to the Security Council will backfire, especially by provoking Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"You have to allow a certain learning process to take place in Tehran rather than banging them on the head," said an Indian official, who asked not to be quoted by name because of the delicate nature of the discussions.

Mr. Ahmadinejad briefly addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, speaking in generalities by warning against "pre-emptive measures" by unnamed states, a comment that some listeners took to be a reference either to the Iraq war or the possibility of Security Council action against the Tehran government.

Past attempts by the United States and leading European nations to move the issue to the Security Council have been rebuffed by several members of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board. A new attempt is to be made next week, but it is not clear that it will succeed.

Bush administration officials say that with India's support, there is a chance of mustering a majority vote. But Indian officials say they prefer not to seek a majority vote but rather to get some sort of consensus among board members demanding that Iran go back to suspending its nuclear activities or negotiating to give up its programs.

"Whether we get a consensus depends on what kind of resolution we have," said the Indian official, noting that by tradition the atomic energy agency does not take any action except by consensus.

In some ways, the tensions between India and the United States are reminiscent of the cold war, when Washington expected India to stand up to the Soviet Union and was regularly disappointed. While India professed a nonaligned status, some in Washington saw it as a satellite of Moscow.

Now India is in the middle between the West and Iran, with which it has tried to foster a close relationship, and is discussing construction of a natural gas pipeline.

Iran has warned that moving the issue of its conduct to the Security Council would be a provocation, and it has waged a successful campaign to get at least a third, and perhaps more, of the votes on the I.A.E.A.'s board to side with it.

Normally, blocking a "consensus" at the board is enough to block any action at all. But American officials say that with India's help, they can obtain a majority vote - if not next week, then within a few months - to refer Iran to the Security Council.

A separate theme of the American-Indian tensions is energy. The centerpiece of the accord President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed last July effectively exempted India from decades of international rules under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Under the agreement, which represented an extraordinary change of policy, the United States agreed to share peaceful nuclear energy technology with India even though it possesses nuclear weapons.

In effect, Bush administration officials say, India must now choose who is the best partner to meet its surging energy needs - Iran with its natural gas resources or the West with its ability to help in developing Indian civilian nuclear power.

Administration officials have warned India that if it fails to cooperate on Iran, the civilian nuclear energy agreement negotiated last summer could be rejected by Congress.


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