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Iran factor may derail Indo-US relations

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | July 22, 2008 09:20 IST

Even as the Bush Administration is gung-ho over pushing the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement before the expiry of the US Congress this year buoyed by the decision by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] to go through with the accord come what may, it remains concerned that pro-deal lawmakers like Congressman Gary Ackerman continue to express their angst over the close India-Iran ties.

The lawmakers have warned that this could be a spoiler to the envisaged strategic partnership between Washington and New Delhi.

Exclusive! US will sign deal, even with minority govt

In an exclusive interview with, Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of the State for South and Central Asian Affairs who is the administration's point man for pushing through the deal in Congress, acknowledged, "We all have to be aware of that," and disclosed, "I was talking to Congressman Ackerman the other day about how we could proceed on the deal and he very pointedly raised that with me as well and will with others."

Besides being one of the most senior Democrats in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ackerman is also the chairman of this Committee's Subcommittee on South Asian Affairs that has jurisdiction over matters pertaining to the subcontinent.

'In their hearts they know that the deal is good'

Ackerman recently warned that the belief 'that the United States and India will go riding off into the sunset and live happily ever after', could come to grief if India upped the ante in its relations with Iran.

"Continued pursuit of the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) pipeline or other investments in Iran's energy sector, as was hinted a few weeks ago by unnamed officials at India's State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, will halt and potentially even roll back the progress made in bilateral relations over the last several years," he said at the hearing he convened on 'More than Just the 123 Agreement: The Future of US-India Relations.'

Is the N-deal good? Debate rages

Boucher explained that "there are a couple of things here, and one is, we need to understand better the reality of what India and Iran are doing with each other. Is it normal neighbourhood relations and commerce or is there something beyond that?"

"And, so it behooves India just to talk a little bit about what the reality is or not exactly," the senior diplomat argued.

'Not enough time to pass n-deal in US '

Boucher said, "The second is, I do think we understand there will be a kind of normal relationship between India and Iran in the neighbourhood. But the third is, India has made clear in the past that they don't want to see another nuclear power in the neighbourhood -- that they don't want to see an expansion of nuclear weapons overall. They are part of the international consensus on non-proliferation, and so, we hope India will think about that, will apply these principles when it deals with nations like Iran."

Text of India's draft IAEA safeguards agreement

He reiterated that it is imperative that New Delhi understands "the effort that we are all making to stop Iran in developing in the direction of nuclear weapons is a sincere one and that's very much aligned with policies that India itself has enunciated. So, I guess we'll listen and watch and see how India decides to act on its principles."

'It is sad the N-deal is smeared in murky politics'

At the hearing he convened, Ackerman asserted that "I hope that India's officials will hear and understand the US view of Iran: that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony is a serious threat posed to international peace and stability in the Middle East and the vital national security interests of the United States."

He said that he couldn't understand why India continue to pursue relations with Iran and more so enhance Iranian coffers by the trade and commerce it has with Teheran at a time when "other world nations are implementing UN-approved sanctions and even going further, to cut off access to banking services and discourage other economic interactions with Iran."

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