Indian experts on the Indo-Iranian relationship describe it as stable but somewhat shallow. It is nurtured by both sides simply to maintain a friendly partner in the region. Our contacts encouraged the U.S. to engage Iran bilaterally rather than use India or any other third party as an intermediary.
195906 3/9/2009 12:34 09NEWDELHI451 Embassy New Delhi CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN 09NEWDELHI1310|09 NEWDELHI2021|09 NEWDELHI 2986 "VZCZCXRO3937 OO RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHPW DE RUEHNE #0451/01 0681234 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 091234Z MAR 09 FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5711 INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7455 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 6056 RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 3181 RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6155 RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 8172 RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 7708 RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC" "C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 000451 SIPDIS USDOE TOM CUTLER AND DANIEL COLOMBO E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/09/2019 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, EPET, IR, IS, PK, IN
SUBJECT: INDIAN VIEWS ON ENGAGING IRAN REF: A. NEW DELHI 2986 B. NEW DELHI 2021 C. NEW DELHI 1310
Classified By: Acting POLCOUNS Lesslie Viguerie for Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: Indian experts on the Indo-Iranian relationship describe it as stable but somewhat shallow. It is nurtured by both sides simply to maintain a friendly partner in the region. Our contacts encouraged the U.S. to engage Iran bilaterally rather than use India or any other third party as an intermediary. Despite optimism by some on the potential political/security benefits of the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline, an element of friction in our relationship. Post maintains its long-standing assessment that this is a project unlikely to come to fruition. End Summary.
2. (C) Comment: Much of India's Iran policy is designed for public consumption by the domestic Muslim and Non-Aligned Movement audience. We can expect that India will continue an active dialogue with Iran through high-level visits and working groups, at times in ways that are likely to appear to us as too much ""business as usual."" Still, it is indeed because U.S. and Indian interests in Iran are drawing closer than before -- from issues ranging from nuclear weapons to regional stability to the Israel factor -- that we can look to Delhi as a factor in our strategies on Iran. Post contacts seemed unanimous in asserting that India's Iran policy runs independently of its U.S. policy; however, they point out that when common interests converge, we can expect India to be supportive. The key, therefore, is to proactively work with India to highlight these interests. End Comment.
India-Iran Relations: Longstanding, Wide-Ranging
3. (C) The foundation of the Indo-Iranian relationship lies in the two countries' historical ties which, in a region that places so much importance on the past, have paved the way for the existing broad bilateral relationship. The two states share few, but important foreign policy goals. The key factors driving India's interest in maintaining a positive relationship with Iran are twofold: its energy needs, and its desire to play well with others in the region, especially at times when India's relationship with Pakistan ) which Iran also shares a border with ) is increasingly contentious.
4. (C) High level Indian and Iranian government officials meet regularly to discuss their countries' energy ties, naval agreements, international terrorism, and cooperation in technology, pharmacology, and defense, among other issues. In the last fourteen years, three Iranian presidents have made official visits to India; Ahmedinejad came to India in April 2008. ""Positive dealings with Iran are an enormously popular idea in India"" says Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar, a retired Indian diplomat who had ambassadorial assignments throughout Central Asia, explaining that many in the present government see it as a ""sentimental journey"".
5. (C) However, despite official proclamations in Tehran and Delhi that the Indo-Iranian relationship is longstanding, stable and substantial, some experts here question the depth of the relationship. Bhadrakumar says the relationship has ""atrophied"", and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor of Middle East studies, Dr. P.R. Kumaraswamy, refers to such high-level visits as nothing more than ""goodwill visits,"" explaining that there is no real substance beyond their symbolic nature.
U.S. Should Engage Iran Bilaterally, Say Indian Experts
6. (C) In the last decade, India's desire to cultivate its NEW DELHI 0000 0451 002 OF 003 relationship with the U.S. has factored into its foreign policy toward Iran. But India's ability to influence Iran on behalf of the U.S. is limited, say experts. It would be a mistake, explains Bhadrakumar, for the U.S. to think of using India as an intermediary to engage Iran for two reasons: because India does not have a substantial enough relationship with Iran to have leverage over it, and because the Iranians would prefer to deal with the U.S. directly.
7. (C) A third reason why Indians would prefer to stay out of U.S.-Iran relations is because India wants a stable relationship with Iran, and any perception Delhi is carrying out a foreign policy influenced by the U.S. might risk upsetting the status quo. ""India wants to keep a healthy bilateral relationship and not get involved in a multilateral problem,"" says Kumaraswamy, which also explains why Delhi tends to leave issues with Pakistan out of its portfolio with Iran.
India Opposes Iran's Nuclear Weapon's Ambitions, for its Own Reasons
8. (C) Several of Post's contacts, both in and out of government, all of whom have served for extended periods in Iran, agree that Iran's nuclear weapons program has advanced to a stage that is not likely to be reversed, regardless of whether conservatives or moderates run the Iranian government. Categorizing as futile any efforts to try and stop Iran from developing its nuclear weapons program, they offer that the U.S. should focus its efforts on gaining an inside track into Iran's program. Bringing Iran into the international community, contacts maintain, would force it to adhere to international standards of transparency. The only way Tehran would turn back from its nuclear weapons pursuit, according to S.K. Arora, former Indian Ambassador to Iran, would be if there were a complete global dismantlement of nuclear weapons effort. For Iran, the program has now become a matter of national pride, he explained, and therefore, Iran would not give it up.
9. (C) When asked if the U.S. could continue to count on India opposing Iran's nuclear weapons development in fora such as the IAEA, Arora answered it would depend on what India's interests are at the time. Citing as a major worry that more states in the region were joining the nuclear club, Arora told PolOff that India is the least interested state in seeing Iran develop a nuclear weapon.
10. (C) However, India would not oppose Iran simply to enhance its relationship with the U.S. or to improve relations with Europe, he explained, despite the fact that ""for the past 6 years India has been extremely anxious to have a good relationship with the U.S."" India's relationship with Iran is based strictly on India's domestic political interests at the time, said Arora, making reference to India's large Muslim population, its political weight, and how any government must be cautious in the steps it takes to avoid inciting this segment of society.
Using India's Leverage to Engage Iran, Israel
11. (C) Despite the belief held by many here that using India as an intermediary for dealing with Iran is not plausible, a few Indo-Iran watchers see some opportunities for the U.S.-Indian strategic partnership to be leveraged to encourage a less aggressive dialogue between Israel and Iran.
12. (C) Israeli cooperation with India has grown over the past decade. According to both Indian and Israeli press reports, Israel is overtaking Russia as the main defense supplier to India after breaking the $1 billion mark in new contracts signed annually over the past two years, and the NEW DELHI 00000451 003 OF 003 Indo-Israeli relationship, while still relatively young, might be ripe enough to incorporate dimensions other than defense sales. According to Kumaraswamy, India more heavily values its relationship with Israel than it does its relationship with Iran.
IPI Pipeline, Railway Cited As Potential Growth Areas
13. (C) India's priority for the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) natural gas pipeline project has been to obtain the guarantee that Iran would provide an uninterrupted supply at a reasonable price, and Iran has been unable to provide such an assurance. Similarly, Iran wanted assurance from India that it would purchase the gas at a certain price for a certain number of years. Many of our contacts remain skeptical about the potential of this project after so many failed negotiations, and some like Arora and Kumaraswamy see no chance of it actually materializing. Post maintains its long-standing negative assessment of GOI interest in and prospects for the proposed pipeline (refs B,C).
14. (C) However, given the dual Indian interests of energy security and regional stability, contacts such as Bhadrakumar believe bringing the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to fruition could bring political benefits, even if its commercial prospects remain dim. Bhadrakumar believes IPI could serve as a vehicle for building trust and sees a realistic opportunity for the pipeline to be completed, maintaining that there is a possibility negotiations could resume with a new Indian government in summer 2009. He added U.S. companies could benefit indirectly through downstream commercial projects. The payoff of the developing pipeline project could be immense, not only in a business aspect, but from a regional security standpoint as well, explains Bhadrakumar. Bhadrakumar also said he saw a similar promise for India to play a role in building Iran's regional integration through the completion of the Chabahar port railway project, linking Iran's coast to Central Asia and beyond.