Five former Ambassadors to Iran now in Delhi recently shared with us their views on the current Indo-Iranian relationship. The Ambassadors were unanimous that the Indo-Iranian relationship is important to India primarily for energy security, but lacks depth.
199213, 3/27/2009 11:17, 09NEWDELHI594, Embassy New Delhi, CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN, 09KABUL705| 09NEWDELHI451, "VZCZCXRO2046OO RUEHBC RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHPWDE RUEHNE #0594/01 0861117ZNY CCCCC ZZHO 271117Z MAR 09FM AMEMBASSY NEW DELHITO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5926INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVERUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVERUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7501RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 6123RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 3233RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6198RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 8207RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDCRUEAIIA/CIA WASHDCRHEHNSC/NSC WASHDCRUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DCRUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 7768RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FLRHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HIRUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC","C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 000594
DEPT OF ENERGY TOM CUTLER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/27/2019 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MNUC, EPET, IR, PK, IN
SUBJECT: INDO-IRANIAN RELATIONSHIP: FORMER AMBASSADORS TO IRAN SHARE THEIR VIEWS
REF: A. NEW DELHI 00451 B. KABUL 00705
Classified By: Acting CDA White Reasons 1.4 (B, D)
1. (C) Summary: Five former Ambassadors to Iran now in Delhi recently shared with us their views on the current Indo-Iranian relationship. The Ambassadors were unanimous that the Indo-Iranian relationship is important to India primarily for energy security, but lacks depth. Bilateral ties - described as shallow but stable, at best, and distrustful at times ) are unlikely to change. The Ambassadors also shared their views on the ability of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei to pursue consistent policies. They agreed that U.S., Indian and Iranian interests intersect in support of Afghan reconstruction. End Summary.
India-Iran Relations: Stable but Shallow
2. (C) On 13 March, the Charge d'Affaires hosted a lunch for four ambassadors in Delhi who served as ambassadors to Iran to discuss the Indo-Iranian relationship.
- The Swiss Ambassador to India, Philippe Welti, served in Iran 2003-2008 (Switzerland acts as the protecting power for the U.S. in Iran);
- The Italian Ambassador to India, Roberto Toscano, served in Iran 2003-2008; - The Japanese Ambassador to India, Hideaki Domichi, served in Iran 2004-2007; - The Hungarian Ambassador to India, Geza Palmai, served in Iran 1991-1995.
Additionally, on March 23 Acting PolCouns met with Ambassador K.C. Singh, a retired high-level Indian diplomat who served as India's Ambassador to Iran from 2003 to 2005.
3. (C) The consensus among the five ambassadors was that barring an unforeseen change in policy after elections in Iran and India in the coming months, the Indo-Iranian relationship is unlikely to grow in the near future. The Ambassadors predicted continued public overtures by the two nations -- which have in the past tended to exaggerate the extent of Indo-Iranian ties -- but agreed there is little reason to believe the relationship will change.
4. (C) There is a misconception in the West that India has a close relationship with Iran, according to Ambassador Singh, who during his tenure in Tehran became known for advocating the expansion of Indian strategic and energy cooperation with Iran. Singh explained that the Indo-Iranian relationship has not been managed well in the last decade. He characterized India's inability to deal with both the U.S. and Iran simultaneously, without ""upsetting"" one or the other, as a failure of Indian diplomacy. The Swiss Ambassador described ties between the two countries as ""very weak"" and said that apart from energy cooperation ) which he claimed included Indian investments in Iran worth USD 10 billion - there was no depth to the relationship.
5. (C) India's leverage with Iran has significantly decreased, according to Singh, who expressed uncertainty at how much India would be able to accomplish with regard to Iran. Singh attributed this in large part to India's vote against Iran at the IAEA in 2005. Despite the common strategic interest shared by Iran and India in countering the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is minimal trust between the two states. The Government of Iran is suspicious of India's ruling Congress Party for its perceived pro-U.S. leanings and considers India's voting at the IAEA in past years as a betrayal, according to Singh.
India Opposed to another Regional Nuclear Power NEW DELHI 00000594 002 OF 003
6. (C) A nuclear Iran looms large in any discussion of Indo-Iranian ties, particularly given India's own nuclear program. India is not interested in seeing Iran develop nuclear weapons and clearly opposes Iran's nuclear ambitions while they are weapons-centered. The Hungarian Ambassador explained that India does not want another state in the region to become a nuclear power. Although India, with its independent foreign policy, is not opposed to Iran, or any other country, developing a peaceful nuclear energy program, the Government of India has clearly stated its opposition to Iran's nuclear weapons development.
7. (C) Iran, on the other hand, does not want to abandon its pursuit of a nuclear weapon because the government and Iranian citizens see this issue as a matter of sovereignty, and the regime considers it a necessary tool to have as a ""backup"" in the case of a major threat, according to the Italian Ambassador. Toscano was pessimistic about Iran compromising to halt its program. (Comment: Ambassadors Palmai and Toscano were echoing official India's view that India will continue to oppose Iran's nuclear ambitions whenever Iran's program extends beyond the energy dimension. End Comment.)
Dealing with the Iranian Regime
8. (C) Ambassador Welti shared his view that Iran's top decision makers can never be reliable because the power distribution is too wide and constantly shifting. Referring to the Supreme Leader, Welti explained that Khamenei's decision-making ability depended heavily on balancing forces within the Council of Guardians, which was often divided on issues. This in turn makes it very difficult for the Supreme Leader to execute a consistent policy. Ambassador Palmai opined that the most important question was whether the nature of the regime would change in the near future )- he did not think it would. But the Italian and Swiss Ambassadors challenged this assumption, explaining that the Iranian regime was already in the process of changing and that power struggles were more evident with generational changes. They identified President Ahmedinejad as a ""perfect representation"" of a younger generation that is committed to recapturing the Islamic and revolutionary principles that spurred the 1979 Revolution and that had been lost as clergy and officials had become comfortable and more interested in status.
Indo-Iranian Cooperation on Afghanistan
9. (C) In discussing Iran's shared interests with India, the Ambassadors focused on reconstruction in Afghanistan and how to deal with the Taliban. According to Palmai, Iran and India could cooperate on Afghanistan. He identified intelligence collection in Afghanistan, specifically on the movements of the Taliban, as an area where the U.S. might also share a common interest with both countries.
10. (C) Some of the Ambassadors also believed Iran and India could aid Afghan reconstruction by working together on infrastructure projects. An Indian-financed highway already helped connect the Afghan road system to the Iranian port of Chah Bahar. Work could also be done on a rail connection to Herat.
Thin Business Ties
11. (C) The Ambassadors agreed that energy cooperation is the top bilateral issue between India and Iran, but most noted that other than trade in crude oil and refined products NEW DELHI 00000594 003 OF 003 cooperation had been limited due to the stalled Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline. The proposed pipeline has been indefinitely placed on the backburner by the Government of India, which has been unable to obtain the guarantee that Iran would provide an uninterrupted supply of gas at a reasonable price. India's Parliament would oppose India's financing of a pipeline that runs through Pakistan, explained Ambassador Welti. ""It does not make economic sense,"" according to Singh, who was skeptical about the benefits to India of the proposed pipeline under Iran's current demands. (Comment: Iran has broken its past agreements on oil and gas deals and has little credibility within the Indian Government as a long term partner on large, expensive, long-term oil and gas deals. In addition, India's concerns about the security of the IPI pipeline route through Pakistan have been strongly reinforced by the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, making the likelihood this project will come to fruition anytime soon very low. End Comment.)
12. (C) Ultimately, what is really stopping Indians from engaging in more business ventures with Iran, explained Singh, is 1) the difficulty of doing business with Iran, and 2) the stigma associated with doing business with Iran. India has adopted a more risk-averse attitude toward Iran, balancing the desire to keep the relationship steady while avoiding getting on the ""wrong side"" of the international community. Singh added that given decreasing commodity (especially steel) prices and the renewal of sanctions, there is no rush for India to engage Iran.
13. (C) Comment: The observations our experienced contacts shared with us demonstrate that India's limited yet stable relationship with Iran is likely to continue along the same path for the foreseeable future. We would not be surprised to see the public discourse which plays up Indo-Iranian ties to increase during the election season as candidates play to a large Muslim constituency which sees India's relationship with Iran as a litmus test for how well each political party treats Muslims. While the status quo for Indo-Iranian relations remains in place, our contacts stressed that India's policy toward Iran is based in the end on a hard-nosed calculation of its interests, not in public appeals to the historical and cultural ties between Tehran and New Delhi. The United States has the opportunity to work with India on Iran, but in order to do so, we must lay the groundwork to convince India of where our interests converge.