- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011

The Indian government hosted Iran’s president in 2008 to appease India’s left-wing and Muslim voters, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable published Monday by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

The message — relayed from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi by Deputy Chief of Mission Steven White on April 15, 2008 — notes a planned trip later that month by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The cable states that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had rejected previous requests for a state visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The “reason for agreeing to an Ahmadinejad visit at this time is to appease the [Indian] government’s domestic Left and Muslim constituencies, i.e., asserting the independence of India’s foreign policy, as well as its healthy relations with Muslim neighbors, at a time when the Communists are scoring points with the electorate by criticizing the government for becoming too close to America (and Israel) at the expense of Indian sovereignty,” it states.

U.S. officials took a dim view of New Delhi’s opening to Tehran.

“By kowtowing to political concerns, India has put at risk its image of an emerging, responsible major player in the world,” says a May 1, 2008, cable signed by then-Ambassador David Mulford. The cable advised refraining from “sharp, public comments” that would “only push India and Iran closer together.”

The ambassador privately told India’s foreign secretary “that Americans, particularly members of Congress, will view Ahmadinejad’s visit as India providing a platform for an enemy of the U.S,” the cable says.

The two cables on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit and others recently published by WikilLeaks depict an evolving and complicated relationship between India and Iran.

Ashley Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s South Asia program, said the cables “confirm what we’ve known for a while,” that India is trying maintain ties to Iran even as it condemns the Islamic republic over its nuclear program.

Mr. Tellis, who served as a senior adviser to the U.S. ambassador to India from 2001 to 2003, noted that the Indian government has an acute sensitivity about angering India’s Shiite Muslims.

India is home to 177 million Muslims, roughly 15 percent of the Hindu-majority nation’s population.

Mr. Tellis also said that India’s left wing views Mr. Ahmadinejad positively for “thumbing his nose” at the West.

However, Indian officials held a different view.

In a December 2005 cable, India’s former ambassador to Iran, K.C. Singh, is described as saying that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s worldview is “skewed by his fervent anticipation of the imminent return of the prophesied twelfth Shia imam, making him prone to respond to threats by acting as a martyr.”

Mr. Singh “told us that Ahmadinejad is more radical and irrational than the world initially believed,” the cable states.