Besieged nation

Published : Jun 29, 2012 00:00 IST

The delegates of P5+1 and Iran at the nuclear talks in Baghdad on May 23.-REUTERS The delegates of P5+1 and Iran at the nuclear talks in Baghdad on May 23.

The delegates of P5+1 and Iran at the nuclear talks in Baghdad on May 23.-REUTERS The delegates of P5+1 and Iran at the nuclear talks in Baghdad on May 23.

The NAM summit in Teheran comes at a time when India-Iran relations are under a bit of strain owing to U.S. pressure .

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was in New Delhi in the last week of May to deliver an invitation from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the Indian government for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit to be held in Teheran in August. The visit came at a time when relations between the two countries were under a bit of strain. The admission by the Indian government that it has sharply reduced the purchase of Iranian crude oil is an indicator that the pressure exercised by the Barack Obama administration on New Delhi is working.

Then there was the incident in which an Israeli diplomat's car was attacked in the capital earlier in the year. The Indian investigating agencies have maintained that the attacks were carried out by Iranian nationals. The Iranian authorities have so far stonewalled India's efforts to send a team to Teheran to probe the attack. Salehi said during his visit that his government would consider India's request in this regard.

At a media conference in New Delhi, Salehi said Iran totally refuted the allegations that an Iranian national was behind the attack. He suggested that the accusation was part of a propaganda war to demonise Iran. He said 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 about it since. He asserted that it was Israel that was legitimising assassinations of Iranian citizens. Israel has virtually accepted responsibility for the killing of five Iranian nuclear scientists. When Israel assassinates our best scientists, an air of legality is given to the killings, Salehi said, adding that the reaction of the international community to the killing of Iranian nationals was lukewarm.

Salehi also listed other instances of Israeli and American skulduggery against his country. These included the introduction of computer viruses. Last year, the Stuxnet virus was released 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 computer files off and even listening in on computer users. Salehi said Israeli officials had admitted to introducing computer viruses into our petroleum industry. The United States media had said in some of their recent reports that it was President Barack Obama who personally ordered the Stuxnet attack on Iran.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Iran has been long pending. The Iranian President visited New Delhi in 2008. Manmohan Singh was to make a reciprocal visit in the same year. But Washington mounted pressure on New Delhi to distance itself from Teheran. India had earlier voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and put the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project on the back burner. In fact, in May, India formally signed on to the rival U.S.-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. India's vote against Syria in the United Nations Security Council earlier in the year showed that India had lined up with Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies that are ranged against Iran on the nuclear issue. India will have to be represented at the highest level at the Teheran NAM summit as it is a founder-member of the movement. Manmohan Singh will have to visit Teheran in August, whether Washington likes it or not.

The contentious nuclear issue came up for discussion during Salehi's visit. India 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. Addressing a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said that the additional sanctions imposed on Teheran had 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, Krishna said. He also emphasised that for India, Iran was the gateway to the Central Asian region.

Krishna reiterated India's stand that the nuclear issue should be resolved through peaceful diplomacy. But what the West is practising 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 U.S. 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.

Baghdad talks

As Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan notes, the U.S. has already declared economic warfare against Iran. As the recent round of talks in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, between Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., the United Kingdom, 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 Baghdad, the U.S. and the European Union (E.U.) gave Iran a virtual ultimatum demanding that it immediately stop the production of uranium enriched to a level of 20 per cent, ship all its stockpile out of the country, and shut down its Fordow uranium enrichment plant. Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak disclosed in the first week of April that during the talks he held with U.S. and European officials he had urged them to demand the closure of the Fordow nuclear facility and the transfer of all the 20 per cent enriched nuclear fuel and most of the low-enrichment uranium out of the country. Israeli officials also let it be known to the Western media that the possible attack on Iran may be postponed until 2013 as the military establishment was waiting for the outcome of the talks.

Before the talks began, there were indications that Iran was prepared to compromise on the issue of 20 per cent enriched uranium if the West was prepared to lift the sanctions gradually. 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 U.S. and the E.U. at Baghdad left Teheran with no option but to keep on emphasising its sovereign right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Fareydoon Abbasi, Iran's chief representative to the IAEA, told the media in Baghdad that Iran was enriching uranium based on the country's needs and it would not seek anyone's permission for this. The Iranian negotiating team will not budge if the other side continues to talk this way [take a hard line], he said.

Before the Baghdad meeting, the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, had visited Iran and demanded access to the Parchin military base in order to look into the 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 it can give permission for its inspection. The IAEA's evidence has been sourced from the U.S. and Israel and the two countries do not want the evidence to be shown to Iran. Teheran has dismissed the evidence as fraudulent. An IAEA team had visited Parchin in 2005. Iran maintained that the site was sufficiently investigated during that visit.

The latest IAEA report has confirmed the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities inside Iran. Leon Panetta, the U.S. Defence Secretary, has said that on the basis of available intelligence, Iran has not made a decision to produce a nuclear warhead. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has described nuclear weapons as forbidden under Islamic law.

Although the Baghdad talks ended on a sour note, negotiations between Iran and P5+1 will continue. The next round of talks will be held in Moscow in the third week of June. The prospects of a breakthrough are considered bleak. President 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 U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives had passed a resolution, 401-11, demanding that the Obama administration implement a policy to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons capability. The Obama administration will find it difficult to lift the draconian sanctions even if Iran, in an unlikely scenario, stops all uranium enrichment. Congress has put stiff conditions for the lifting of the sanctions. For instance, Obama has to certify that the government of Iran has released all political prisoners and detainees and ceased its practice of violence and abuse of Iranian citizens engaged 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 buckle under U.S. hegemonism.

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