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Iran sanctions push casts shadow on Manmohan-Obama meet

Siddharth Varadarajan

Washington has been trying to garner international support for tightening screws on Tehran


We don't think sanctions are needed,says Indian official

India has accepted invitation to attend international conference in Tehran


Washington: Apart from lingering concerns over aspects of the U.S. administration's AfPak policy, it is the latest American sanctions drive against Iran that most immediately concerns Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's advisers as he goes into a bilateral meeting with President Barack Obama here on Monday afternoon.

Asked about the agenda of the meeting — which is being held on the eve of the Nuclear Security Summit — a senior Indian official said the two leaders would cover the full range of bilateral, regional and international issues.

Apart from discussions on how to move the bilateral relationship forward in the run-up to the Foreign Minister-level strategic dialogue set for June, Afghanistan and Iran are the issues expected to dominate. “It is obvious the U.S. will raise what bothers them most, which is Iran,” said the official. For the past few weeks, Washington has been trying to garner international support for tightening economic sanctions on Tehran over the nuclear issue, a move that key countries like China and Brazil are resisting.

Though India is not a member of the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. is keen to enlist its support. But New Delhi is not convinced. “We don't think sanctions are needed or that they will solve the problem,” said the official, speaking on background. “We have complied with whatever sanctions the UN imposed but only as part of a broader process of engagement with Iran.” The Iranians, he said, had repeatedly told India that they do not want nuclear weapons. “Unfortunately others don't believe that. So the only way to resolve this is through the [work of the] International Atomic Energy Agency” rather than through coercive means.

The official also confirmed that India, like China, had accepted Iran's invitation to participate in an international conference in Tehran on April 17-18 on the theme of ‘Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None.' That conference, scheduled right after the Nuclear Security Summit to which the Islamic Republic has not been invited, is another red rag to Washington, which has quietly been discouraging other countries from attending.

The senior official said the Prime Minister would also discuss the AfPak issue with Mr. Obama. Asked about recent reports suggesting the Pentagon favoured a smaller Indian footprint in Afghanistan, the official said “our role [there] is not a function of India-U.S. relations. We just happen to have the same goals. But we will play our role with or without the U.S. because we have core interests in our periphery which we will protect. The issue really is about coordination.”

Since the Manmohan-Obama meeting of November 2009, the situation in the region had evolved. “There are two things here – first, the increasing predominance of the Army and second, legal statutes are being modified to transfer power back to the prime minister.” The official said the U.S. couldn't be blamed for trying to use the Pakistani military as part of its strategy of pacifying Afghanistan.

But in India's assessment, Pakistan's role in Afghanistan had not really changed and was unlikely to in the future.

India shared the same goal as the U.S., the official said – the establishment of a peaceful, neutral Afghanistan free from foreign interference. “Last year, there was talk of giving regional powers a greater role. But not much has happened, perhaps because of the Iran-U.S. tension, and now the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. There are so many moving parts in this equation it needs reviewing constantly.”

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