August 04, 2020
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The Persian Puzzle

"India does not need me or other State Department officials to give public advice, and we have too much respect for the Indians to do that"

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The Persian Puzzle

The United States has no intention of giving advice to India on how to deal with Iran, a top Bush administration official said on Friday.

Acknowledging that India is a "sovereign country," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said, "India, like all sovereign countries, will decide what is in its best national interests."

"India does not need me or other State Department officials to give public advice, and we have too much respect for the Indians to do that," he added.

Congressional sources have told Outlook that key members of Congress - including the influential chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Congressman Tom Lantos, and a key friend of India's, Congressman Gary Ackerman, are concerned about India's relationship with Iran and its plans to build a gas pipeline.

India's ambassador to the U.S., Ronen Sen, told this correspondent in an interview earlier in the week that linking the civilian nuclear agreement "with any other issue – today it may be Iran, tomorrow it can be some other issue – will be completely counter-productive. It would be totally unrealistic to expect a large and vibrant democracy like India to give up its independence of judgement and action. The sooner this is realized the better."

Mr. Burns, responding to a question from Outlook, noted, "most of our European and Asian allies have diplomatic and commercial relations with Iran, India does as well. So I don't think that India should be judged against a standard that we don't ask others to do."

The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear programmes are focused toward building a nuclear weapon. The Iranians have denied these accusations, asserting that it is trying to develop nuclear power.

Mr. Burns described Iran as "a very troublesome country on the international stage."

"It is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, it has been sanctioned twice by the U.N. Security Council, it is funding and arming nearly all the Middle East terrorist groups – so it is a country that is acting against the interests of peace in Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "Because of that, we believe, that countries should diminish their relations with Iran. And we say this to the Europeans, we say this to the Japanese, and we say nothing different to India. Our advice to all our friends and partners is: Limit your economic relationship with Iran, don't agree to new investments, particularly in oil and gas, we say that to Europe, Japan, South Korea, the Arab countries as well as to India – and because we believe that Iran needs to be shown that in seeking to become a nuclear weapon state other countries will not conduct business as usual."

But, he noted, "I am not trying to give public advice. India will make its own decision and the points that I have just given are consistent with the points we give to every country."

The senior U.S. official said Washington hoped "that India will continue to participate in the international efforts that are peaceful and diplomatic, through the IAEA and the U.N., to convince the Iranians to stop and convince the Iranians to negotiate. We hope that India will be a strong supporter of that effort."

He pointed out that countries like Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, China, Russia, the United Nations and Europe "are all in the same group" in their efforts to curb Iran's nuclear programme.

"It's a very large group. The only countries really supporting Iran are Syria and Belarus and Cuba and Venezuela," he added. "There is a big, big group of non-Aligned leaders and the P-5, we are acting together in the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council. So it seems to me that India is part of that group and should remain part of that group alongside the other countries that I mentioned."

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