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Pipeline dreams

Gary Ackerman, the senior Congressman visiting India, is a great friend of India and co-chair of the India Caucus.

Written by Ksubrahmanyam |
July 3, 2008 11:14:19 pm

Gary Ackerman, the senior Congressman visiting India, is a great friend of India and co-chair of the India Caucus. He has been a vigorous campaigner for the Indo-US nuclear deal. He has, however, very strong views on the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme and has urged India to join the US and western European countries in isolating Iran to apply pressure on it to fall in line with the demands of the US, UK, France and Germany. Particularly, he has in mind the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to supply gas to the two countries. After the recent talks between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, it was disclosed that most of the issues on the pipeline have been solved.

India will get the natural gas delivered at the India-Pakistan border. Pakistan has given assurance on the security of the pipeline traversing through the turbulent Baluchistan territory. The financing of the pipeline at 7.4 billion dollars is yet to be settled. It is not quite clear, given the pressure on Iran by the international financial institutions how this sum will be raised and when the pipeline would be constructed.

An Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline would not only contribute towards India’s acute energy problem but would also be a major confidence building measure between India and Pakistan. Turning down a proposal which is in India’s long-term interest, and advocated strongly by Pakistan, is not conducive to the betterment of Indo-Pakistan relations. The pipeline has to traverse the whole length of Pakistan. India comes into the picture as the purchaser of the gas. If the US objects to the pipeline, then it is strange that they are not asking Pakistan, which so depends on US aid, to abandon the project, but are asking India to give it up in order to isolate Iran. Ackerman should be requested to explain US policy on Pakistan-Iran cooperation over the pipeline. If they are able to stop it, then the issue of Indian involvement will not arise. If they are permissive of Pakistan and Iran cooperating on the pipeline then why should they object to India benefiting, if and when it comes through? At present it is for Indian interlocutors to seek clarification from the US on its proposed policy on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline.

India’s position on the Iranian nuclear effort has been very clearly articulated. India does not favour nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran. India voted for the resolution of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and 2006 that Iran was in breach of its obligations to that body. Since then many of those issues have been sorted out. Still the Director General, IAEA has a few unresolved questions which he is pursuing. Even the US National Intelligence Estimate has clearly stated that Iran has discontinued its weapons effort in the fall of 2003 and there have been no reports of it being resumed. The US and western European countries appear to be of the view that so long as Iran continues with its enrichment and improves on its capability, it will be in a position to fabricate a weapon if it chooses to, sometime or the other. Therefore, they would prefer Iran to discontinue its enrichment. The Iranian leadership has made it a matter of national pride to continue its enrichment even as it asserts that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons. The Iranian case has problems of credibility since Iran is not going to get a nuclear reactor without the enriched uranium fuel supply tied up by the supplier and Iran is not in a position to design a reactor on its own for the next decade or more.

It is not quite clear whether the Iranians have the North Korean precedent in mind. The North Koreans used a nuclear test and nuclear weapon making effort successfully to deter threats of externally induced forcible regime change to persuade the US to negotiate directly and to obtain much-needed aid. Iran is in a somewhat analogous situation with US threatening regime change and military action. In the case of North Korea, China acted as a successful intermediary. There does not appear to be an intermediary to facilitate an Iran-West dialogue which can lead to the resolution of the issue. In a sense, India is in a position to play that role. China made it clear that it did not favour North Korean nuclear weapons and that did not prevent China playing the mediatory role. In this case, one cannot be confident whether such an offer will be acceptable to Iran and the US. But India does not lose anything in making that offer.

Iran’s cooperation is vital for the US improving the situation in Iraq. Iran is not as isolated from the world as North Korea was. Yes, President Ahmedinejad is notorious for his vituperative pronouncements about Israel. But Ahmedinejad does not wield dictatorial powers in Iran and the Iranian record, illustrated by their acceptance of a truce with Iraq, which Ayatollah Khomeini had said was like drinking poison, shows that they come to terms with reality. Iran is also very crucial to stabilize Afghanistan.

These are all issues of common vital concern to the US and India. Therefore, instead of demanding compliance from India on certain lines of policy determined in Washington, there is a need for detailed discussion between policy makers in the US and India. Delhi does not expect Washington to shape or determine its Pakistan policy on the basis of Indian perceptions. Similarly, Washington cannot expect Delhi to toe the US policy on Iran without questions. Lastly, the US will do well to remember the lessons of Iraq War. The Washington Post has recently reported that ground-level intelligence about the Iranian nuclear programme was rejected because of policy considerations. There is a lot to discuss with Congressman Ackerman.

The writer is a senior defence analyst ambimani@gmail.com

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