BBC Hindi interactive discussion with India’s former permanent representative at the UN Hamid Ansari and CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury on India ’s vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency Board meeting in Vienna recently.
Nagendar Sharma: Is the Iran issue a difficult challenge for international diplomacy and particularly for India ?
Hamid Ansari: I think it is - now, see the problem is that politics is a dominant point now and whether Iran is in violation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines is a side issue. Politics has complicated the matter to an extent that it is now indeed an issue of grave concern
BBC listener from Delhi: There is a perception that India’s vote against Iran might affect its relations with Iran and in the present scenario what would happen to India’s economic ties with US on one hand and Iran on the other?
Hamid Ansari: Let me answer the question on economic ties first. It is important for India to have economic ties with both America and Iran . We cannot have ties with one of them at the cost of other. There is no doubt that economic ties with the US are important, but Iran cannot be ignored. So far as the vote is concerned, already a lot of controversy has been generated within the country, differing opinions are emerging over the government decision, but the main thing is that this vote has been mired in political manoeuvres and as a result of this what has happened in my view is not correct.
BBC listener from Bihar: Does India ’s vote against Iran mean curtains for Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline? Would this enable in getting a nod for the nuclear deal with the US before President Bush’s proposed visit next month to India ?
Hamid Ansari: The pipeline seems to be a distant thing at the moment. Presently the technical aspects of this are being looked into, engineers from both sides are working on that, the decisive stage is a few months away in my view and speculation would not be correct at this stage. So far as the Indo-US nuclear deal is concerned, it depends on what the US Congress decides, and those watching it closely say chances of this being decided before President Bush’s visit are remote.
Nagendar Sharma: Why did India not adopt a neutral stance at the IAEA Board meeting? Not once but twice India has voted against Iran. Diplomatically speaking, what is the Indian government trying to achieve?
Hamid Ansari: It is very clear. Before the first vote in September last year, American side and especially some senators had clearly said the nuclear deal depends on which way India votes. Even this time, the American ambassador and others from their side had made this quite clear. It was a difficult decision for the Indian government. I would draw your attention to what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in his recent press conference that India wants this issue to be decided in Vienna itself. In my view this was absolutely correct. But the way the vote has gone in Vienna , we should be very clear that Iran issue would now be decided in New York and not in Vienna . This has elated the Americans and they have infact said what they wanted has happened.
Nagendar Sharma: We now have senior CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury with us. Left parties are agitated with the government decision, as they had repeatedly asked the government to at least abstain. Mr Yechury, is the Congress-led UPA government taking you (Left) for granted?
Sitaram Yechury: It is not correct to say this. However, on this particular issue, it is now definite that the government has not completely listened to us. Now the government has tried to convince us afresh by saying that the vote was for merely reporting the Iran issue to the UN Security Council and not referring it.
The difference between reporting and referring according to the Indian government is that the UNSC would not have any right to take action of any sort against Iran . Time for such a decision would be the month of March. The government is saying it would wait till March and then decide, though it says it would not like the matter to be referred to the Security Council for any action.
Nagendar Sharma: How long can the alliance continue like this ?
Sitaram Yechury: The Congress party had recently asked the allies to follow the coalition dharma and not cross the Lakshman Rekha. The CPI(M) is clear that the only Lakshman Rekha for this government is the Common Minimum Programme. Now the way foreign policy is being presently implemented is a violation of the CMP, and the government is aware of the repercussions of crossing over the Lakshman Rekha. Now if the government insists that it wants to carry on like it has done on the Iran issue, then it should also know that if it wants to go to that level then we would also see in the coming days on what to do
Nagendar Sharma: Is the foreign policy turning out to be the main point of tension in relations between the UPA government and Left parties?
Sitaram Yechury: On the foreign policy and especially on the present issue of voting against Iran , I would not say tension, but yes there are a lot problems between the government and Left. What we are saying and the Common Minimum Programme also says is that an independent foreign policy would be pursued. Independent means on the basis of unity among developing countries, and also taking along the friends of original Non Aligned Movement (NAM), all nations would oppose attempts by any single nation to impose its hegemony and designs of ruling the world by force. So this is what we want, but what has actually happened on the Iran issue makes it clear that the foreign policy is not headed in the right direction. It seems that the tilt towards America is consistently increasing. We have been opposed to this and we would continue to do so.
Nagendar Sharma: As is clearly evident from the government’s decision to vote against Iran twice at the IAEA, does it mean that political parties have no role left in foreign policy now?
Sitaram Yechury: This is a serious situation. Our understanding is that in the present circumstances, time has come for amending the Constitution to make it obligatory for the government to seek the approval of Parliament before taking a key foreign policy decision and the signing of international treaties, which is not required presently. This has been necessitated as in the recent past, important international treaties have been signed bypassing the Parliament and important foreign policy decisions have been taken ignoring the opinion of the Parliament.
Nagendar Sharma: Mr Ansari, how is it possible that a government decides to bypass the concerns of parties on whose support it depends for survival? Why is politics dominant over diplomacy ?
Hamid Ansari: The entire issue is a very complex one and would have to be seen carefully. First of all, the wording of resolution passed in Vienna over the weekend would have to be observed. As Indian government has said, in its view, in the given circumstances, it was balanced and has taken the concerns of all sides involved into consideration. However, interestingly the resolution was rejected first of all by Israel even before Iran , as it said that entire West Asia must be made a nuclear free zone. Israel rejected despite not having been named directly, as there was an indirect mention and that too after the insistence of Arab nations, America was forced to mention this point, but Israel firmly rejected it.
Secondly, the resolution says Iran must immediately stop all work on nuclear energy, including research work – meaning shut shop. Now this is surprising as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty clearly states that all signatories have a right to develop nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. So what happened to Iran ’s right? The NPT does not say you can snatch any nation’s right, on the contrary it says even if any nation is in violation of the treaty there is a procedure for dealing with it. Now this resolution wants Iran to stop all this, simply because they are saying we do not trust you. Trust could be very tricky, it is Iran today and could be any other nation tomorrow.
BBC listener from MP: Sir, why is the Indian government making its foreign policy subservient to the US in the name of national interest?
Hamid Ansari: I think we should not look at this in a hasty manner. Indian government tries to follow a policy especially with regards to foreign affairs which is in our national interests, and from my experience I can tell you decisions are independently taken. Now sometimes a government is confronted with a difficult scenario as the present one. Here you have a country which is clearly telling you which way you have to go and even more clearly telling you which way not to go. Such situations are not easy to handle.