As the Parliament gets down to conducting business, one issue has temporarily gone off the political radar screen in India: the IAEA vote on Iran. Just a few days ago, it looked as if a first class political crisis was building up over the vote that was to come up in the November 24 IAEA board meeting where one of the agenda points was Iran.
The Left parties had demanded in no uncertain terms that the government must explain the way it was going to vote in the IAEA on Iran. They had also declared that the least the government should do is to abstain. A section of the Left had wanted the government to revise its stand from the one adopted in the last Board meeting, where New Delhi had voted against Iran, albeit with some reservations which it made clear in its explanation of vote.
It has become clear that the IAEA is not sending the Iran matter to the UN Security Council. There are many reasons for this. For one, the United States has scaled down and moderated its political hostility towards Iran by agreeing to the broad concept of allowing Iran’s uranium to be enriched for its power purposes in Russia, a country that has huge stakes in Iran. The domestic political situation in the United States is a factor in this. George Bush is finding the going rough on matters pertaining to a country that is Iran’s neighbour: Iraq.
The President of the United States knows also that there is some serious opposition to the US idea of taking the Iran matter to the UN Security Council from two other Permanent Members: China and Russia. So there is no point expending political energies to take it there yet. The EU 3 have also not pushed the vote this time, and, did not even come up with a draft based on which the vote could be conducted.
The United States also did not want to open another front which will cause some serious political haemorrhaging. With things in Iraq going badly for the United States and with the attendant Congress scrutiny, the United States probably finds it prudent to put off brinkmanship for another day.
There could be another reason for this as well. The composition of the IAEA Board of governors has changed and the new entrants include, among others, Cuba and Belarus. Analysts who watch the scene closely say that if the vote had been conducted, there would have been more abstentions than there were the last time, at the very least, which would politically have been a bit of a dampener.
The Russians have emerged in the forefront of diplomacy with Iran. And some hope is being pinned on the efforts undertaken by Moscow to persuade Iran to see some merit in exploring some via media on the enrichment issue. Iran’s behaviour itself has taken some of the heat off the issue for the moment. It has allowed inspections of one military facility and has made available some scientists to be questioned on the issue. Overall, its co-operation has gone up, but how significantly is not clear.
What is clear, however, is that Iran has also responded by cutting off the possibility of any future inspections by the IAEA by getting suitable domestic legislation passed. According to the stance it has now taken, if the IAEA Board were to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, Iran would begin activities that it has so far abstained from. From that point on, it would be difficult to get a handle on the issue. The UN would have to move towards sanctions and then things would slide to the point where North Korea was when it walked out of its international commitments and understanding. It would enormously complicate an already messy region.
So far as India is concerned, its diplomatic efforts seem limited to monitoring the situation. Beyond that its influence in the matter is arguably tenuous. The last time, the Iran vote came about, it was done mainly to send a signal to the US Congress that New Delhi was a responsible nuclear power and did not want another nuclear power in the region. The vote also reflected some political anxiety to be seen by the American legislators that New Delhi was jettisoning some earlier posturing on Iran so as to be seen as a maturing power.
If it had come to voting, the government would have had to balance its needs to conduct normal legislative business - given the Left ultimatum that the government reverse its stand on Iran - with the government’s perceived need for America to deliver on the July nuclear deal.
Now everybody is breathing a bit easier because the moment of the vote has passed without event, which is what the UPA-Left co-ordination committee was told earlier this week. But the matter is by no means resolved. The Left had wanted the government to make clear how it intended to behave on the matter. As it transpired, the government did not have to show its hand. It remains to be seen what happens when the matter comes up again.