India: India Balancing: In Pursuit of Two Agenda


Dr Auriol Weigold

The Henry J. Hyde U.S. - India Atomic Energy Cooperation Act was signed on 18 December 2006. There has, however, been no agreement on aspects of the Act and India's contentious relationship with Iran has haunted the debate like Banquo's ghost.

This article is written as negotiations resume. To cite some problems: India has not signed the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it has refused to open all its nuclear facilities to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections. India has seventeen reactors and five more under construction. Eight reactors will remain closed including two that opened in 2005 and demonstrate clearly what India can achieve alone. The key issues of future nuclear testing and the sharing of nuclear fuel technology are also areas of dispute with India objecting to the Congressional demands that it conducts no more tests, and that technology sharing be subject to an extended non-proliferation regime. (Henry Sokolski, 'Negotiating the Obstacles to U.S.-Indian Strategic Cooperation', Guaging U.S.-Indian Strategic Cooperation, H. Sokolski (ed), March 2007, www. An analysis of obstacles can be found in this Chapter.) A sub-text is the US determination that India actively joins its efforts to isolate and censor Iran for pursuing a nuclear program.

The progression toward agreement on a LNG pipeline from Asaluyeh in Iran, through Pakistan to Delhi, although a decade in the making, is one focus of Washington's anxiety about India's Iran and broad regional political and strategic objectives.

India's relationship with Iran is multi-focused and of long-standing. It is important to recognise the depth of their strategic cooperation, and the extent to which India would have to shift its regional allegiance to meet America's demands if they are maintained.

To refer only to the expansion of the Indo-Iranian relationship since 2000 is to illustrate a facet of America's problem. The Tehran Declaration, April 2001, paved the way for energy and commercial initiatives, and restated their determination to speed up the development of the gas pipeline, accompanied by an agreement that Iran would supply India with LNG, while India supplied necessary infrastructure.

The India-Iran Strategic Dialogue was an outcome of the Teheran Declaration. The first meeting in October 2001 addressed three areas of interest: regional and international security, both countries' defence policies and the question of international disarmament. The fourth meeting in May 2005 similarly had a broad focus (C. Christine Fair, 'Indo-Iranian ties: thicker than oil', The Middle East Review of International Affairs, Volume 11. No 1, Article 9/11 - March 2007, p 7. I am indebted to the author for information about the Indo-Iranian relationship.) but concentrated on the 25-year contract to supply India with some 1.2 million metric tons of LNG per year. A much larger amount than the pipeline will supply.

January 2003 signing of the New Delhi Declaration substantially broadened the areas of interest and cooperation to include information and food technology, education and training. Significantly a commitment was made to 'more robust' defence cooperation. (Fair, p 8) A 'the key instruments signed was the Road Map to Strategic Cooperation' which set out a 'framework' for meeting the Declaration's objectives, including development of Chahbarah port, rail links and the North-South Corridor. (Fair, p 8)

Although India voted against Iran's nuclear plans at global meetings, it gave Tehran a 'significant victory' in April (2007) at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meeting when it recommended observer status for Iran as a first step to membership, despite strong US lobbying. (Bruce Loudon, The Australian, 16 April 2007)

The US is stepping up pressure on India. A sense of anxiety over the nuclear agreement and implications if it collapsed is evident. The intractable Indian position over its right to test nuclear weapons goes to the heart of its national sovereignty, and agreeing to end testing would be damaging for Prime Minister Singh's government. The call from US Senators for India to stop its military cooperation with Iran (Bruce Loudon, The Australian, 23 April 2007) raises the rhetorical ante still further.

India's diplomatic balancing act will call for great skills as Foreign Secretary Menon holds talks with US Undersecretary, Nicholas Burns, in Washington on 30 April. A crucial point will be Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act that will define what is required of India. It includes the ban on nuclear testing, and India may argue that insistence on its inclusion amounts to a backdoor introduction of the CTBT by Washington.

India's post-independence experience in 'the strategic mobilisation of morality' (Ajai Shukla, 'Strategic morality - Cold-blooded view', Business Standard, 24 April 2007) in international relations may be called into play in this instance.

WATCHPOINT: Success in implementing their civil nuclear agreement will depend on compromise. Resolution may have been reached before publication but a point to watch at this time (1 May 07): Is there room for compromise on Section 123 without setting a precedent that the US and its allies cannot accept? One might expect rhetorical posturing on, eg, Iran to be dropped by the US, but how India manoeuvres on issues affecting perceptions of national sovereignty will be the crux of the nuclear deal.


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