The balancing act over Iran

Indias energy security interests are at stake over Iran’s emerging nuclear ambitions, writes Gurmeet Kanwal. 
Diplomatic arm-twisting on the Iranian nuclear crisis is continuing to undermine the emerging Indo-US strategic partnership. Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, said recently: “We are unhappy with the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India $7 billion gas pipeline project. There could be consequences for countries investing in Iran.” 

Earlier, US Ambassador David Mulford voiced reservations about the Indo-US N-deal’s approval by US Congress if India did not vote to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. 

Coercive vote
Both in September 2005 and in February 2006, India was apparently coerced into voting to hold Iran in “non-compliance” of its safeguards obligations to the IAEA, while China, Russia and Pakistan abstained. This was seen domestically as a meek surrender of India’s strategic autonomy for uncertain future gains and as a move that undermined, even jettisoned, India's half-century old policy of non-alignment. It was also viewed as being detrimental to India's long-standing friendship with Iran and, as a corollary, harmful for India's energy security, as India is heavily dependent on Iran for its oil and natural gas imports.
While Iran has categorically ruled out intentions to acquire nuclear weapons, India is concerned that the acquisition of uranium enrichment capability may create a propensity to develop N-warheads later. Iran has obtained uranium enrichment technology clandestinely from Pakistan. It could develop N-weapons and may even transfer this technology to terrorist groups either as a state policy or lax procedures that may be exploited by scientists with fundamentalist leanings. It already has an advanced ballistic missile development programme, Shahab-3 IRBM, capable of striking targets in western India. These two programmes are capable of giving Iran a robust nuclear weapons delivery capability.

As Iran is likely to continue to be governed by a hard-line nationalist regime, the acquisition of N-weapons by Iran will add to regional instability in an already unstable neighbourhood. Saudi Arabia may then follow suit and acquire its own N-weapons and other neighbours may seek nuclear guarantees. 

The Prime Minister has highlighted India’s security concerns arising from proliferation activities in our extended neighbourhood. On account of national security considerations alone India's opposition to Iran’s uranium enrichment program is absolutely justified. No international agreement with Iran will work in the long-term if it does not recognise its right to produce or process its own nuclear fuel under mutually agreed IAEA safeguards. This is not only a key clause of the NPT regime but was conceded in the Paris agreement signed in November 2004 by the EU-3 and Iran. The best way to ensure that Iran is never tempted to make nuclear weapons will be to address its security concerns and accommodate it as a major regional actor that is now showing increasing willingness to play a more responsible role in international affairs. 

Threat to peace
The international community is clear that a civil nuclear energy programme which bestows enrichment capability on a state ruled by a hard-line nationalist regime and one that has been an active state sponsor of terrorism, is a threat to peace and stability. It must be curtailed or at least subjected to an intrusive safeguards regime. 
India cannot wish away the crippling impact that economic sanctions and, even worse, military strikes on Iran will have on its energy security and its trade in the region. India must balance the concerns of the international community about Iran’s N-ambitions by calling on Iran to respect its treaty obligations under the NPT and IAEA safeguards and give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons. On their part, the Western powers must realise that India can play a positive role in the early resolution of this knotty crisis.