|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
The dangers of the November 24 vote
November 17, 2005
American Ambassador to India David Mulford told a press briefing on Monday that the United States hoped India would vote on the Iran nuclear issue at the meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency as it did on September 24.
'In its last vote, India expressed its national interest,' Mulford was quoted as saying.
Delhiites should now know who to call up if they are in doubt whether the United Progressive Alliance government's foreign policy decisions are in 'national interest' or not.
This is only one of the lessons we are learning from the Iran nuclear issue.
In the period since the September 24 voting at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, international diplomacy over the Iran nuclear issue has broadened and deepened.
New protagonists have entered the charmed circle of the EU-3 (United Kingdom, France and Germany) that previously held the exclusive right of negotiating with Iran. Russia and the countries belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement are principal among them.
The US too has engaged itself more openly than ever before.
India does not figure as a consequential interlocutor on the issue, tireless pretensions of Indian officials to create a contrary impression notwithstanding. This is not surprising.
However, what must be surprising for the noisy Indian strategic community -- including, curiously, some war horses in the country's pantheon of diplomatic heroes -- should be that the Non Aligned Movement is still alive and kicking.
The fashion in which Iran sought and obtained the solidarity of NAM countries in the IAEA to create time and space necessary for bringing to bear its diplomatic capabilities on the nuclear issue offers an abject lesson in statecraft.
The Delhi durbar used to keenly imbibe Persian ways in its past history. Persian habits were deliberately cultivated as a mark of wisdom and refinement. We could still do so.
An issue of such profound consequence for international security is unfolding in India's immediate neighbourhood (where a few million Indian expatriates live) and still no one is bothered to listen to what the Indian leadership has to say. Certainly, that hurts India's standing, prestige and self-cultivated vanity as a serious power worthy of a seat in the United Nations Security Council.
It all boils down to one question: What was the September 24 IAEA voting all about? The fact is the IAEA resolution did not haul Iran before the UN Security Council. To say that it was not meant to do so will be stating the obvious.
The resolution did not isolate Iran diplomatically. For all purposes, the road to Teheran has become a beaten track today for the international community.
Surely, the IAEA resolution has not created a fait accompli for Iran either. So, what was the resolution aiming at?
The international community, with the solitary exception of the Indian leadership, would seem to have understood pretty much in advance what the September 24 resolution was really about – pressurising Iran.
In Teheran, a new leadership was settling in.
Would it panic under pressure into making false steps?
More importantly, could it be browbeaten?
Or better still, could the Iranian regime be brought to 'implode' from within, resulting in a 'regime change'?
At any rate, this would have been the last chance for Washington to force a voting in the IAEA. As many as 10 non-permanent members represented in the IAEA's board of governors were due to move out on rotation, and were to be replaced by countries like Cuba, Belarus, Egypt, Indonesia, Libya -- which could not be expected to act in an unfriendly way toward Iran.
Thus -- never mind Iran was not found to be in serious violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, never mind the IAEA was actually appreciative of Iran's cooperation -- America went ahead with the decision to force a voting. The decision was tactical, and intended to put maximum psychological pressure on Iran.
But, Iran did not make a single false move. It has not proceeded to rush into actual enrichment of uranium. It has not walked out of the NPT. It has not even jettisoned its voluntary act of committing itself to an additional protocol with the IAEA.
Iran did not buckle under pressure either.
It has coolly said that the gas conversion activity in the Isfahan facility shall continue despite the September 24 resolution's ultimatum.
National opinion consolidated behind the regime. Iran will not accept a truncated fuel cycle on a differentiated basis as dictated by Washington, but will continue to insist on full rights as an NPT member country.
Iran will not be accused of intransigence either. It has allowed the IAEA inspectors to go on with the work to ascertain whether it had in the past undertaken any clandestine nuclear enrichment activity. It has even allowed the inspectors to visit certain no-go zones like sensitive military installations.
Now, it appears the IAEA inspectors returning to Vienna are likely to give a clean chit to Iran -- a huge moral victory for Teheran. Washington is bending over backwards to see that the tabling of the IAEA inspectors' report will somehow be delayed to a date beyond the upcoming board of governors meeting on November 24.
Where does all this leave the so-called 'international community'?
Can Washington force another vote against Iran at the IAEA on November 24?
That may be risky. The level of support for another resolution may not be more than 18 or 19 votes (as against 22 for the September 24 vote) -- even assuming, as Ambassador Mulford does, that the UPA government in Delhi would once again dance to the American tune in 'national interest'.
Such a drop in support in the 34-member body will be a huge diplomatic defeat for Washington.
So, does America have a military option?
Iran has done some plain-speaking lately. It has made it abundantly clear it can make the cost of a military attack on its territory unacceptably high for either the US or Israel. Not that Washington and Tel Aviv did not already know.
Moreover, the Bush administration would now onward have to contend with the growing sense of 'war weariness' in the American public opinion before letting loose the dogs of war in another faraway land in the name of 'regime change'.
Iran's cooperation is badly needed for the stabilisation of Iraq, and Afghanistan. Any confrontation with Iran at this juncture can have catastrophic fallouts on regional stability in the Gulf and the Middle East.
Thus, Washington is buying time, and has acquiesced in a new 'peace offensive.'
The poser is: What if Iran continues with the activity in its Isfahan facility but agrees nonetheless to have further downstream uranium enrichment work handled in a facility in a foreign country but with Iranian participation?
Iran's first reaction has been 'No'. But Iran is not obdurate either.
On its part, Iran has presented an innovative idea. For the sake of making its uranium enrichment work fully transparent, it is prepared to invite foreign participation on a joint venture basis, including with private companies from abroad that could even have majority share holding.
Actually, the Iranian formula is ditto the pattern of a collaborative framework in the 1970s involving (pre-revolutionary) Iran, France and South Africa -- with American support to boot!
The current state of play is that the IAEA director general will be travelling to Teheran shortly with a finessed proposal that may dovetail the face-saving formula of the 'international community' with Teheran's own proposal.
Time will tell.
The European Union too does not have the stomach to open a Pandora's box on the Iran nuclear issue. EU's current trade turnover with Iran exceeds $22 billion. Any disruption in the oil supplies from the Gulf region will hurt the European economies.
The EU-3 too are badly distracted by own preoccupations at home. Tony Blair's 'Teflon' image has taken a battering recently. The ancien regime of Jacques Chirac finds itself in a deep crisis. Germany is drifting into political uncertainties.
Thus, at the end of the day, the utter futility and hollowness of the UPA government's decision to vote for the September 24 IAEA resolution against Iran stands exposed.It leaves an unsavoury impression that India could have done without. There is nothing worse in international politics than being taken for granted.
Some years ago, when Uzbekistan found itself as one of only two countries (along with Israel) that voted in favour of the annual American resolution in the UN calling for an embargo against Cuba, the British ambassador in Tashkent chose to mention at the Uzbek foreign office that friendship did not actually require that one heeded every single American demarche.
She suggested that Tashkent should rather assess whether Fidel Castro was hostile toward Uzbek interests or not.
Of course, Uzbekistan at that time was new on the road to nationhood -- untutored yet in the ABC of diplomacy. But, that cannot be said for India.