Even as United States President Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to Iran to dissuade Teheran for developing a nuclear weapons capability have apparently failed miserably and the talk in Washington is now about slapping Iran with punitive sanctions, with some in the US Congress even suggesting military action, India has counseled dialogue and warned that sanctions and anti-Iran fervour could further destabilise the region.
Obviously cognizant that India's close ties with Iran is a potential irritant in the burgeoning strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said, "I realise that this is a situation that concerns all of us and Iran is in our region and Iran is a country with which we share a very long-standing, and what we call a civilizational relationship."
"So, we are very aware and we closely monitor what happens in Iran," she said.
Responding to the first question thrown at her on Iran during an interaction that followed her address to the Woodrow Wilson Center titled 'Two Democracies: Defining the Essence of India-US Partnership,' Rao recalled that she was in Iran last month and in her discussions with her diplomatic vis-à-vis and also the Iranian foreign minister and the national security adviser, was that 'they need to sort this matter out with transparency and through meaningful dialogue with the international interlocutors concerned -- in this case, the six countries, the P-5 plus one countries that are focused on this issue.'
"We believe that Iran has both rights and responsibilities," she argued.
"Responsibilities stemming from its membership of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and also rights to develop its nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
But obviously, Rao acknowledged, "This process has encountered difficulties and controversies and there are certain actions that the international community has focused on which it attributes to Iran having taken steps in the view of the International Atomic Energy Agency for instance, that begs certain questions, which need to be answered."
She pointed out that it should not be forgotten that 'we in fact, voted with the resolution in the board of governors at the IAEA last November because of these questions that were raised and we feel like that we need satisfactory answers to these questions.'
"Having said that, of course, I would continue to stress there is need for dialogue to sort this issue out," Rao said.
"The P-5 are now contemplating sanctions against Iran, and we don't know what form these sanctions will take at the end. I believe this is a work in progress. But, it continues to be our view that sanctions that targets Iranian people and will cause difficulties for them -- the ordinary man, woman and child on the street in Iran -- would not be conducive to a resolution of this question."
Rao reiterated, "We don't want more instability in that region," and emphasized that 'Iran is very much a part of our region. Iran has a very important role for instance, to play in the developing situation in Afghanistan, And, we of course, have strong bilateral ties with Iran.'
"I don't just refer to religious or cultural ties," she said, and noted the 'large population of Shia Muslims are in India. But, in education for instance, the largest number of foreign students in India today -- self-financed students -- come from Iran. They are all over the country, studying in universities -- and I am not saying religious institutions but in our universities."
Thus, Rao while saying that India watches 'the situation carefully,' expressed the hope that 'it doesn't get complicated further -- let's put it that way -- and that we try and resolve this issue through further dialogue.'