- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

India surprised even the most vigilant observers last weekend when it sided with the United States and the European Union in supporting a resolution that recommends referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council if negotiations on its nuclear program do not make headway. India’s position at the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding Iran is encouraging and significant, illustrating that concerns over Iran’s program do not emanate from Washington and Europe alone. The move also indicates that the young U.S.-Indian friendship is evolving.

All the same, it would be premature to conclude that India’s vote is a definitive turning point, indicating that New Delhi will ultimately support referring Iran to the Security Council. The resolution at the IAEA does little more than diplomatically rap Tehran on the shoulder, since the IAEA board will not consider until November whether the Security Council needs to examine the Iranian program.

Tehran gives its nuclear program a high priority and appears willing to become a pariah to maintain it. While any agreement with Iran would require diplomatic negotiation and maneuvering, it would probably also require a willingness to confront Iran. It remains to be seen whether India will be willing to join the West in bringing that pressure to bear.

Indeed, U.S. officials were forced to do some tough bargaining with India in order to win its support for last weekend’s vote. New Delhi had demonstrated it had no intention of voting for a resolution pressuring Iran. Energy-hungry India has been careful not to alienate Iran, on which it depends for fossil fuels. India, Pakistan and Iran have been holding talks over a potential deal to construct a $7.4-billion, 1,000-mile natural-gas pipeline from Iran, through Pakistan, to the Indian state of Rajasthan. Also, Iran agreed with India in June to export 5 million metric tons of liquefied natural gas, starting in 2009.

At the same time, the Indian government values its growing ties with the United States, particularly a July 18 proposal by the Bush administration to share civilian nuclear technology with India, which would also help the country meet its energy needs. With rising gas prices, that deal is particularly attractive.

Given those competing interests, India would rather not take a clear position on the Iranian program. U.S. officials have correctly made clear, though, that if the United States is to share nuclear technology with India, New Delhi must commit itself to nuclear nonproliferation on Iran and other issues. India clearly heard that message, and acted on it last weekend.

U.S. officials should publicly avoid the appearance of a crude quid pro quo. If the Indian government is seen by its citizens as doing the bidding of the Bush administration, it will suffer politically and may not vote with the United States and the European Union come November. The Communists that India’s ruling party depends on for its majority have publicly opposed confronting Iran at the IAEA.

Unfortunately, Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, has made it more difficult for India to vote the right way next time. Not one to pass up a self-aggrandizing opportunity, Mr. Lantos boasted of the pressure he put on India’s foreign minister over the Iranian program when he visited Washington in early September, and suggested that he singlehandedly succeeded in getting the Indians to change their position. “I had then made it clear that India cannot expect [us] to accommodate her while she totally disregards our interests, and indicated great displeasure with India’s policy,” said Mr. Lantos on Wednesday. He added that his statement caused “a tremendous hubbub” in the Indian media.

On that latter point, Mr. Lantos is certainly correct. That “hubbub” in the Indian press was over concerns that India acted as a U.S. lackey at the IAEA, a perception reinforced by Mr. Lantos’ unfortunate and self-serving comments. The Indian government is now taking pains to claim it voted on the merits of the nonproliferation cause, not due to U.S. pressure. U.S. lawmakers should also extol those merits, and refrain from bragging about how they pushed India’s foreign minister around. India’s vote, after all, will still be needed come November.

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