Column: Dispatches FromThe Edge Shifting Alliances Among India, Iran and the U.S. By Conn Hallinan

Friday October 14, 2005

This is a tale about a vote, a strike, and a sleight of hand. 

For the past six months the United States and the European Union have led a full-court press to haul Iran before the U.N. Security Council for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) by supposedly concealing a nuclear weapons program. Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to declare Iran in “non-compliance” with the treaty, but deferred a decision on referral to the Security Council until Nov. 25. 

On S ept. 30, more than a million Indian airport and banking workers took to the streets to denounce the ruling Congress Party as “shameful” for going along with the Sept. 24 “non-compliance” vote in the IAEA. The strikers were lead by four Left parties that are crucial allies of the Congress-dominated United Progressive Alliance government. 

Why was India lining up with the United States and the European Union against Iran, and alienating essential domestic allies? Why would India jeopardize a deal with Iran over a $22 billion natural gas deal, and a $5 billion oil pipeline? 

To sort this out one has to go back to early this year when CIA Director Porter Goss and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld testified before Congress that China posed a strategic threat to U.S. interests. Both men lobbied for a “containment” policy aimed at surrounding and isolating China. 

One key piece on this new Cold War chessboard is India. But there was an obstacle to bringing India into the ring of U.S. allies stretching from Japan to Tajikistan. 

In 1974, using enriched uranium secretly gleaned from a Canadian and U.S. supplied civilian reactor, India set off an atomic bomb. New Delhi was subsequently cut off from international uranium supplies and had to fall back on its own rather thin domestic sources.  

But the Bush administration realized that if it wanted India to play spear bearer for the United States, the Indians would need to expand and modernize their nuclear weapons program, an almost impossible task if they co uldn’t purchase uranium supplies abroad. India produces about 300 tons of uranium a year, but the bulk of that goes to civilian power plants.  

According to the 2005 edition of “Deadly Arsenals,” India presently has between 70 and 110 nuclear weapons.  

T hose weapons, however, are fairly unsophisticated, and clunky for long-range missiles. Nor are Indian missiles yet capable of reaching targets all over China, although the Agni III, with a range of 2,000, miles is getting close. 

So here comes the sleight of hand. 

On June 28, Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee met with Rumsfeld to sign the U.S.-India Defense Relationship Agreement, which gives India access to sophisticated missile technology under the guise of aiding its space program.  

The June a greement was followed by a July 18 meeting of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush that ended U.S. restrictions on India’s civilian nuclear power program, and allowed India to begin purchasing uranium on the international mark et. 

By allowing Indian to buy uranium on the open market, the pact will let India divert all of its domestic uranium supplies to weapons production. That would allow it to produce up to 1,000 warheads, making it the third largest arsenal in the world beh ind the United States and Russia. 

Of course there was a price for these agreements: India had to vote to drag Iran before the Security Council. The Americans were quite clear that failure to join in on the White House’s jihad against Teheran meant the ag reements would go on ice. 

“India,” warned U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Ca), will “pay a very hefty price for their total disregard of U.S. concerns vis-à-vis Iran.”  

So that explains the vote. But is the Congress Party really willing to hazard its majority i n the Parliament and endanger energy supplies for the dubious reward of joining the Bush administration’s campaign to isolate Iran and corner the dragon? Well, a “sleight of hand” can work both ways. 

Right after the Sept. 24 vote in the IAEA, Iranian Pre sident Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad gave an incendiary interview to the United Arab Emirates based newspaper, the Khaleej Times, threatening retribution against any country that voted against Iran. A few days later, the Iranians reversed themselves, claiming that their president had never actually talked with the Khaleej Times. And the Indians quickly announced that the gas and pipeline deal was still on. It’s a good bet that the Indians give Teheran a wink and a nod following their “yes” vote. India is already hinting that it may change its vote come Nov. 25 (one suspects from “yes” to “abstain”). 

The Sept. 24 vote was 22 “yes,” one “no,” and 12 abstentions. China and Russia abstained but have publicly said that they are opposed to sending Iran to the Security Council. Two of the “yes” votes are rotating off the 35-member IAEA board to be replaced by Cuba and Belarus. And much to the annoyance of the United States, Britain, France and Germany met this past week to discuss restarting direct talks with Teheran. In short, it is unlikely that Iran will end up being referred to the Security Council. 

Will an “abstain” vote by India be enough to open the gates for U.S. technology to ramp up New Delhi’s nuclear weapons programs? Probably.  

Does this mean India joins the U.S. alliance against China? The answer to that question is a good deal more complex. 

In April of this year India and China signed a “Strategic and Cooperative Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,” and trade between the two up and coming Asian giant s is projected to reach $20 billion by 2008.  

In fact, in the end the United States may just end up getting snookered. As analyst Lora Saalman writes in Japan Focus, “The technical and military hardware provided by the United States promises to expand In dia’s political, strategic and military foot print even beyond China,” but that rather than pitting the two huge Asian powers against one another, “the United States may be setting up India to instead serve as a future strategic counterweight to U.S. inte rests in Asia and abroad.”  


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“Spiraling out of control” is how Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger described the U.S. military’s conduct toward journalists in Iraq. 

At least 66 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion, four of them from Reuters. Besides the killings, scores of journalists have been arrested and detained.  

Reuters is particularly upset with the detention of cameraman Samir Mohammed Noor, who was arrested last April and taken before a secret tribunal. The tribunal found him to be “an imperative threat to the coalition forces and the security of Iraq” and ordered him to be detained indefinitely. Reuters is demanding he be released and given an opportunity to defend himself in open court. 

In a letter to Senator John Warner (R-Va), chair of the Armed Services Committee, the Reuters head charged that “By limiting the ability of the media to fully and independently cover the events in Iraq, the U.S. forces are unduly preventing U.S. citizens from receiving information … undermining the very freedoms the U.S. says it is seeking to foster every day that it commits U.S. lives and U.S. dollars.”