IAEA Vote Seen Hurting India-Iran Ties; Analysts Say Gas Pipeline May Be at Risk
Byline: Anupama Narayanswamy, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
South Asia analysts warn India of a backlash from Iran over India's controversial Sept. 24 vote with the United States referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
Analysts say that although New Delhi's decision stemmed from wanting to safeguard its civilian nuclear deal with Washington, it could lead to long-lasting acrimony with Iran, a country India depends on to meet its rising energy needs.
"It's difficult to think that the vote was not influenced in some measure by India's deal with the U.S.," said Lawrence Scheinman of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington.
Justifying what is seen as a diplomatic turnaround from India's nonaligned stand, and supporting the EU-led resolution, India's ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen, was quoted in a Times of India article as saying: "Just for a moment, take geopolitics out of the equation. Oil and gas are finite resources. Nuclear energy is not.
"Cutting-edge research in nuclear sciences and nonconventional energy like fuel cells and bio-fuels is not taking place in Iran or Saudi Arabia," he added.
After years of mutual distrust, the United States and India reached an accord in July in which Washington agreed to help India's civilian nuclear program. This pact now needs to be ratified by Congress, and will take effect after ratification, analysts think.
The EU resolution that passed was a watered-down version of the one first proposed and Indian officials took credit for this.
Harm already done?
After the resolution was passed, Iran, which has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), threatened full-fledged battle against the International Atomic Energy Agency by enriching uranium and not allowing short-notice inspections that are mandatory under the NPT.
India's Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said at a press briefing in New Delhi on Sept. 26: " ... much of the effort that we made, the diplomatic effort that we made, was in fact on behalf of Iran."
But some analysts think the damage to Iran-India ties has already been done, putting plans for a multimillion-dollar gas pipeline between the two countries in jeopardy.
In June, Tehran and New Delhi signed a $22 billion liquefied natural gas contract under which India will buy 5 million tons of LNG per year for 25 years starting in 2010.
The planned pipeline, which will run through Pakistan, was seen as a portent of peace in the region.
Amid widespread speculation about this contract, the Iranian government is sending mixed signals. Its Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said Sept. 27, that Tehran was surprised by India's action. He said India's vote "came as a great surprise to us," adding: "We will reconsider our economic cooperation with those countries that voted against us."
And in a quick turnaround, a day later Iranian officials denied reports saying that India's vote at the IAEA would not affect the pipeline agreement with India.
Although analysts are not betting on the pipeline being built, they are reticent about this volatile issue, and some officials change their positions each day.
'Friends with everybody'
Stephen Cohen, senior fellow and analyst of India at the Brookings Institution, said: "Iran has announced that the pipeline deal will not go through, and once again, India is being tested at the old game of friends with everybody."
Another analyst George Perkovich, vice president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "It makes economic sense that it will be done. But then, there is a lot of dependence on Pakistan, which is not a totally attractive deal for the Indians."
But according to Indian officials, the pipeline deal will still go through.
An Indian Embassy official in Washington said: "We see no connection between the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and India's voting in an international forum. …