THE Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was in New Delhi in the last week of May to deliver an invitation from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadenijad, for the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to be held in Teheran in August.
Salehi’s visit came at a time when relations between the two countries are under a bit of strain. The admission by the Indian government that it has sharply reduced the purchase of Iranian crude is an indicator that the pressure by the Obama administration on New Delhi is working.
TO DEMONISE IRAN
Then there was the incident related to the attack on an Israeli diplomat’s car in the capital earlier in the year. The Indian investigating agencies have said that the attacks were carried out by Iranian nationals. The Iranian authorities have so far stonewalled efforts by the Indian government to send a team to Teheran to probe the attack. In Delhi, the Iranian foreign minister said that his government would “consider” India’s request for sending an investigating team to Teheran.
The Iranian foreign minister strongly denied that any Iranian was behind the attack targeting Israeli diplomats. “We totally refute these allegations,” Salehi said at a press conference in Delhi. Salehi suggested that the accusations against Iran were part of a propaganda war to demonise Iran. He pointed out that last year Iran was accused of plotting to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington. That fabricated story was front-page news in the western media for some days but nothing much has been heard of the story since. Salehi at the same time pointed out to the Indian media that it was Israel which was legitimising the assassinations of Iranian citizens. Israel has virtually accepted responsibility for the killings of five of its nuclear scientists. “When Israel assassinates our best scientists, an air of legality is given to the killings,” the Iranian foreign minister said. He went on to add that the reaction of the international community to the killings of Iranian nationals was lukewarm.
Salehi also listed other instances of Israeli and American skulduggery against his country. These included the introduction of deadly computer viruses. Last year it was the Stuxnet virus to target Iran’s nuclear industry. The virus did create problems for Iran but then it spread beyond its borders and affected the security of many other countries, including those in the West. In May this year, Iran’s oil industry was hit by an even more lethal “Flame” virus. The Flame malware is capable of siphoning away computer files and even listening in on computer users. Salehi said in Delhi that Israeli officials have admitted “to introducing computer viruses into our petroleum industry.” The US media in recent reports said that it was President Barack Obama who personally ordered the Stuxnet virus attack against Iran.
PRESSURE ON INDIA
Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Iran has been long pending. The Iranian president was in Delhi in 2008. The Indian prime minister was to make a reciprocal visit to Iranin the same year. But American pressure on New Delhi to distance itself from Teheran was piling up. India had earlier voted against Iran in the IAEA and put the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project on the backburner. In fact in May this year, India formally signed on to the rival American backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. India’s vote against Syria in the UNSC earlier in the year showed that New Delhi had lined up with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies which are ranged againstIran on the nuclear issue. India, being a founder member of the NAM, will have to be represented at the highest level at the Teheran summit. Manmohan Singh will have to finally visit Teheran in August, whether Washington likes it or not.
During the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Delhi, the contentious nuclear issue was discussed. India formally recognises Iran’s right to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. New Delhi has also been saying that it will not implement the additional sanctions imposed by the West though some of its actions give the contrary impression. The Indian external affairs minister, while addressing a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, said that the additional sanctions imposed on Teheran have had an impact on the legitimate economic interests of India. “With respect to our energy, we are dependent on imports to meet the bulk of our requirements. Given our growing demands, it is natural for us to diversify our sources of import to meet the objectives of energy security. In this context, Iran is a key country for our energy needs,” said Krishna. He also emphasised that Iran was the gateway for India to the Central Asian region.
Krishna reiterated India’s stand that the nuclear issue should be “resolved through peaceful diplomacy.” However, what the West is practicing with Iran is “coercive diplomacy.” There are no suggestions that the punitive sanctions against Iran will be removed any time in the near future. Instead, the Iranian people are threatened with fire and brimstone by the US and its nuclear armed ally in the region — Israel. The sanctions on Iran are now on the lines of those applied against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. As Professor Juan Cole of theUniversity of Michigan notes, the US has already declared an economic warfare against Iran. As the recent round of talks in Baghdad between Iran and the P5+1 (the US, UK,France, Russia, China and Germany) showed, the West wants to drive a very hard bargain to let Iranians live a normal life once again.
At the talks in the Iraqi capital in the last week of May, the US and the EU gave a virtual ultimatum to Teheran, demanding that Iran immediately stop the production of 20 per cent enriched uranium, ship all its stockpile out of the country and shut its Fordow enrichment plant. The Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, had revealed in the first week of April that he had held talks with US and European officials urging them to demand the closure of Fordow, transfer of all 20 per cent enrichment out of Iran, and transfer of most of the low enrichment uranium out of the country as well. Israeli officials also let it be known to the western media that the “possible attack” on Iran “maybe postponed until 2013,” as the military establishment is waiting for the outcome of the talks.
Before the talks began, there were indications that Iran was prepared to compromise on the enrichment of 20 per cent uranium issue if the West was prepared to gradually lift sanctions. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, had proposed a “step by step” approach under which each of Iran’s moves to satisfy western concerns would be followed by the progressive lifting of sanctions. Iran has already turned some of its stockpile into fuel plates for a research reactor in Teheran that produces medical isotopes. The hard line taken by the US and EU at Baghdad left Teheran with no other option but to keep on emphasising on its sovereign right of enriching uranium for peaceful purposes.
Iran’s chief representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Fareydoon Abbasi, told the media in Baghdad that Iran was enriching uranium based on the country’s needs and would not ask anyone’s permission to do so. “The Iranian negotiating team will not budge if the other side continues talking this way,” he said.
Before the Baghdad meeting, the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, had visited Iran. During the visit, he had demanded access to the Parchin military base with his team to look into “possible military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran has said that the IAEA will have to provide evidence of illegal activity on the site before permission is given for inspection. The IAEA’s evidence has been sourced from the US and Israel. The two countries don’t want the evidence to be shown to Iran. Teheran has said that the so called evidence the two countries have is fraudulent. An IAEA team had visited Parchin in 2005. Iran said that the site was “sufficiently investigated” during that visit.
The latest IAEA report has confirmed “the non-diversion of declared nuclear materiel at the nuclear facilities” inside Iran. The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, has said that based on available intelligence, Iran has not made a decision to produce a nuclear warhead. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has in fact described nuclear weapons as “forbidden” under Islamic law.
Though the Baghdad talks ended on a sour note, negotiations between Iran and P5+1 will continue. The next round of talks were to be held in Moscow in the third week of June. The prospects for a breakthrough are however considered bleak. President Barack Obama, facing a tough re-election later in the year, is in no mood to defy the diktats of the influential Israeli lobby and the US Congress. The US House of Representatives had passed a Resolution 401-11, demanding that the Obama administration implement a policy of preventing Iran from having a “nuclear weapons capability.”
The Obama administration will find it difficult to lift the draconian sanctions even if Iran in an unlikely scenario completely stops all uranium enrichment. The US Congress has put several stiff conditions before US sanctions can be lifted. For instance, the US president has to certify that the government of Iran has released all political prisoners and detainees and ceased its practices of violence and abuse of Iranian citizens engaging in peaceful political activity. The game plan of the West is obvious. It is not really worried about Iran’s nuclear programme. What it is really aiming for is to accelerate “regime change” by rigorously implementing wide ranging sanctions aimed at preventing Iranian oil and gas from being exported. Iran and Syria are the only two countries in the resource rich region that have refused to bend to American hegemonism.