The U.S. had pressured India in a variety of ways in an attempt to persuade it to downgrade its ties with Iran, according to several confidential cables from the New Delhi American Mission leaked by WikiLeaks on Friday.
In cables sent after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad briefly stopped over in India in mid-2008, the then U.S. Ambassador, David Mulford, told the then Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon that “Americans, particularly members of the Congress, will view Ahmadinejad's visit as India providing a platform for an enemy of the U.S.”
This was also the time when India was negotiating the civil nuclear deal with the U.S., and Mr. Mulford sought to link it with New Delhi maintaining close ties with Iran.
While in one cable Mr. Mulford served a mild warning, he later got told off by Mr. Menon when he sought to put the screws on. The telling-off led to Mr. Mulford concluding that “the India-Iran relationship does not need U.S. interference.”
A year earlier, several cables reveal how the U.S. harried India on one of its companies trying to supply graphite blocks to allegedly further the Iranian nuclear programme. The Americans served a demarche to India on the issue and forced New Delhi to cancel or withhold the shipments.
One cable also has a U.S. Embassy official complaining to South Block about a meeting between an official of the Indian company with a person they suspected of furthering Iran's ballistic missile programme. In the end, the U.S. was all praise for India's non-proliferation efforts by blocking the graphite shipment.
While the India-U.S. deal was being negotiated, Mr. Mulford told Mr. Menon that “the average American will wonder why the U.S. has gone out of its way to have a nuclear cooperation initiative with India, when India is so friendly to Iran. I cannot predict what the effect of this visit will be, but noted that he expected the Ahmadinejad stop to exercise those members of Congress who have gone out of their way on India's behalf [for the nuclear deal].”
Mr. Menon responded by observing that “there is nothing in this visit that should upset you,” and explained that the Indian government had little choice to say yes when the Iranian government requested a stop in transit. Moreover, he said India and Iran needed to talk about Afghanistan and energy issues.
“We can talk with him without affecting our other relationships,” Mr. Menon contended, and cited the strong India-Israel relationship that withstood India's flirtation with Iran. He also said that in his view, Mr. Ahmadinejad's criticism of the West was a “performance.”
‘No dictation from U.S.'
Mr. Menon later got tough with Mr. Mulford when he persisted with this line.
“Menon also cautioned the U.S. against telling India what to do, especially in public. This government has to be seen following an independent foreign policy, not responding to dictation from the U.S. He recognised that Iran presents a global problem, and the U.S. and India differ in how to fix the situation because of geography. For instance, Menon pressed, India must work with Iran to deal with Afghanistan,” the cable said.
The U.S. does not seem to have been mollified by briefings given by Mr. Menon after Mr. Ahmadinejad's visit. Mr. Menon's reading was that Mr. Ahmadinejad “voiced more mild opinions, and called for strengthening the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
In another briefing, Mr. Menon said Mr. Ahmadinejad was “broadly ideological but mild on specifics.” He admitted: “I had not realised how ideological Ahmadinejad is, and noted that while Mr. Ahmadinejad did not attack the U.S. explicitly, he opined that the U.S. has destabilised Iraq and would withdraw soon.”
When asked about specifics, Mr. Menon said: “Ahmadinejad became relatively mild.” He highlighted Mr. Ahmadinejad's opinions on Afghanistan and Iraq wherein he noted that “there was no alternative to Hamid Karzai and called for strengthening the government in Kabul, and regarding Iraq, he called for greater law and order, but considered the Maliki government good. There was no fire and brimstone in the details.”