Financial Times: Washington yesterday raised the stakes in the confrontation over Iran when it warned India that Delhi’s own nuclear deal with the US could be ditched if the Indian government did not vote to refer Tehran to the United Nations Security Council.
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels, Roula Khalaf in Tehran and Arkady Ostrovsky in Moscow
Washington yesterday raised the stakes in the confrontation over Iran when it warned India that Delhi’s own nuclear deal with the US could be ditched if the Indian government did not vote to refer Tehran to the United Nations Security Council.
The US’s tough new move came amid increasing signs that Iran’s efforts to delay referral to New York may be gaining ground. Yesterday, Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, expressed doubts that the UN’s nuclear watchdog would be able to take such a step next week, as the US and the European Union intend. Meanwhile, Russia and Iran emphasised their “fast-growing” ties with each other.
In comments reported by the Press Trust of India news agency, David Mulford, US ambassador to India, said that if India decided not to vote against Iran, the US-India deal on nuclear energy co-operation would “die”. He added: “The effect on members of the US Congress with regard to the civil nuclear initiative will be devastating.”
The US State Department later clarified the ambassador’s remarks, saying he was expressing his analysis of how Congress might react to Indian opposition. Asked for the official US position, he said Washington hoped India would vote in favour of referral as it had done before.
At the last vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency in September, India caused a domestic uproar when it supported a softer resolution against Iran just months after reaching its landmark deal with the US. Yesterday, India said it “categorically” rejected any link between its own deal, intended to alleviate its chronic energy shortage, and the vote on Iran.
Mr Annan indicated it would be difficult to refer Iran to the Security Council next week, since a wide-ranging IAEA report on Iran’s recent behaviour would be ready only for the following meeting, in early March. “I am not sure that they will be ready to refer [Iran”> to the Security Council if the official report of the board has not been released,” he told Reuters.
John Bolton, US ambassador to the UN, responded to Mr Annan’s intervention by saying it was up to the governments to decide, not the secretary-general.
Meanwhile, the joint Russian-Iranian statement that followed a Moscow visit by Ali Larijani, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, indicates that Russia’s position may, if anything, be hardening against swift referral to the Security Council.
The current phase in the dispute is set to climax at the February 2-3 meeting of the 35-country board of the IAEA in Vienna. Foreign ministers from the US, Russia, China and the EU will meet at the margins of a conference in London next week.
Soon afterwards, the EU and the US have to decide whether they will insist on a speedy referral to the UN, as has been their plan since Iran announced its intention to restart nuclear enrichment – the process that can produce nuclear weapons material. They know if they delay again, after having previously scaled back plans for a referral in September and November, it could be seen as a sign of weakness.
But they also know that there are likely to be four votes against them on the IAEA board – Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and Belarus – and that there is more scope for winning over waverers, if, as Mr Annan suggests, they delay a definitive UN referral to a meeting in March.
Already, a draft EU declaration, scheduled for next week, speaks of Europe’s desire to “involve the Security Council” rather than pushing for a Security Council resolution straight away.
Yesterday, a western diplomat in Vienna suggested “some kind of possible Security Council involvement” could take the form of the UN body issuing a statement that it was “watching and waiting for the results of [Mohamed”> ElBaradei’s March 6 report”.
A delay would allow more time for Iranian-Russian negotiations, the main international attempt to broker a deal, and for Mr ElBaradei, IAEA director-general, to report on whether Iran has increased co-operation.
Additional reporting by Gareth Smyth and Guy Dinmore