By joining the US- EU-led witch hunt against Iran, India will contribute significantly to the erosion of whatever remains of the pre-9/11 world order. If this sets off a confrontation that ends in a bombing of Iran, India will be complicit in the second major violation of Article 2 of the UN charter and the consequent destruction of the UN. Is that where our national interest really lies?
In the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is meeting this week, India is being urged to base its vote on whether or not to refer Iran's nuclear delinquency to the UN Security Council on a 'cold calculation of its national interest'. This is therefore being defined as falling in line with the wishes of the EU and the US and drag Iran before the Security Council, because this will ensure a supply of state of the art civil nuclear technology, modify the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's provisions in India's favour and, best of all, make India a part of the emerging oligarchy that governs the post-9/11 world.
Given its large muslim and Shia population, its thrfee-million workers in the Gulf, and its long ties of friendship with Iran, India has tried to temporise by announcing that it wants Iran to adhere to its treaty obligations and definitely forego the option of making nuclear weapons, but opposes any attempt to make it do so through a policy of confrontation. In this it has aligned itself with Britain, France and Germany, nicknamed the EU3, which had made precisely that effort over the course of prolonged negotiations that culminated last November.
But the cover that the EU3 gave India has vanished, for they have decided to vote in the IAEA for referring Iran to the Security Council. India's vote is deemed crucial to the success of the resolution. It therefore has nowhere left to hide.
The vote that India casts in the IAEA will be a defining moment in our history, for it will tell the world just who we are and what we stand for. At present we are leaning more and more towards dragging Iran before the UN. In his last statement in New York, Dr Manmohan Singh in effect dismissed Iran's protestation that it wanted to produce power and not bombs by remarking, "We do not want another nuclear power in our neighbourhood."
If this is indeed the conclusion that India has come to then it is a blatant and self- serving piece of self-deception designed to hide a capitulation to American pressure, because so far there is suspicion, but not a shred of actual proof, that Iran is indeed engaged in a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. The way in which the West has built up this fear, bears such an uncanny resemblance to what it did in order to invade and destroy Iraq, that one shudders to think of where the present confrontation will end.
Iran signed the NPT in the '70s and has an ambitious civilian nuclear energy programme. Its forecasters calculate that its oil will run out in less than two decades, so it needs an alternate source of energy now. It also insists that it has the same right as any other signatory of the NPT to develop nuclear energy and export its oil to generate foreign exchange.
But in the past 30 years the security environment in which it lives has changed drastically. Since 1980 it has lived under relentless threat from the US and from Israel.
It would therefore have been foolish not to attempt to develop some kind of nuclear capability as an ultimate deterrent to aggression. This is the presumption that has made Iran the second target of Bush's new national security doctrine of pre-emptive military action.
The West got the pretext that it was looking for when satellite photographs showed, in December 2002, that Iran was building a large uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, which it had not declared to the IAEA. Iran claimed that it had intended to inform the IAEA but the plant was in the early stages of construction. The civil works had not been completed, the enrichment chambers did not even have roofs, and even in February 2003 when the IAEA visited the plant, only 160 centrifuges had been installed. But the IAEA nevertheless got a jolt and asked Iran to sign an additional protocol to allow its inspections to be more thorough and intrusive.
Iran did so in December 2003, and the IAEA moved into Natanz, but the US refused to be assuaged. Its analysts said openly that Iran had only to divert 2,000 centrifuges (out of the 50,000 that were being installed) to produce enough highly enriched uranium ( HEU) for three bombs a year. The only way to avert this threat was to prevent it from setting up any enrichment facilities at all. Bush began to issue dark threats of military action, and Israeli newspapers reported the transfer of bunker buster bombs to its air force. These actions carried within them the same dire potential for chaos as the first pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.
That was when, to head off another Iraq, the EU3 entered the fray. But it soon became apparent that the EU was only trying to do the US' bidding by other means. In March 2004, Iran volunteered to accept even more strict monitoring by the IAEA. The EU received the proposal but did not respond. Instead in August it asked Iran to permanently abandon the right to enrich uranium and dismantle its centrifuge making capability.
In exchange Iran would have all sanctions upon it removed, would be sold nuclear plants and guaranteed the supply of nuclear fuel. Iran refused, pointing out that this went far beyond the NPT and any other existing international law and amounted to blackmail, but in November agreed to suspend enrichment pending the creation of a long-term agreement that would define the conditions under which it would pursue its civilian programme. An important part of the agreement was a commitment by the EU3 to address its security concerns.
The fundamental difference, however, persisted. Iran wanted the framework to define the safeguards under which it could make its own fuel; the EU3 wanted it to stop production altogether. These differences did not, however have time to surface, for the US was not prepared to contemplate anything short of total abandonment, and also unwilling to give any security guarantees. On Novemebr 17, 2004, days after the Iran-EU3 agreement, Colin Powell accused Iran of developing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. It turned out, again as in Iraq, that this was based upon supposed intelligence from a single unverified source.
In August 2005, after waiting for nine months, Iran broke the IAEA seals at Natanz and resumed work on the gas centrifuges. It did so under the watchful cameras of a fully alerted IAEA, but the EU3 chose to minimise this, as well as to brush aside the fact that it was they who had not been able to deliver on their promise to forge a long- term agreement. Since then they have lost no opportunity to accuse Iran of bad faith, while carefully avoiding any mention of the US.
When the IAEA found traces of HEU enriched till 58.3 per cent in one of the centrifuges the EU and US proclaimed that this proved that Iran had been trying to produce weapons grade uranium. Incessant reporting of this accusation by the media without a single effort to present Iran's version of the story, convinced the international public that Iran was at fault. When the IAEA found that this uranium had the markings of having been produced in Pakistan and had stuck to the second-hand equipment it had sold to Iran, this went virtually unnoticed.
Dr Singh's remarks in Paris and New York show that India is teetering on the edge of joining this witch hunt. Before it does so it would do well to understand what that will mean. First, the pressure on and threats being made to Iran violate Article IV of the NPT and therefore fall outside international law. By joining those who are issuing it, India will contribute significantly to the erosion of whatever remains of the pre-9/11 world order. If this sets off a confrontation that ends in a bombing of Iran, India will be complicit in the second major violation of Article 2 of the UN charter and the consequent destruction of the UN. Is that where its national interest really lies?
* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.
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articles by Prem Shankar Jha