India on Friday joined the US in voting against Iran in a resolution passed by UN atomic watchdog IAEA censuring the Islamic nation over its controversial nuclear programme and demanding that it stop uranium enrichment.
At a meeting of the 35-member board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Austrian capital Vienna, 25 countries voted in favour of the resolution spearheaded by the US.
Besides India, the resolution was endorsed by six world powers -- the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- reflecting a rare measure of unity on Iran. It is the first time since February 2006 that the IAEA board has passed a resolution against that country.
The resolution demanded that Iran immediately suspend construction of its newly-revealed uranium enrichment plant at Qom--a site kept secret until recently.
According to sources, India’s decision to vote against Iran was taken at the highest level.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is in Port of Spain to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), consulted Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna on the issue.
An inkling of India’s position at the IAEA was given by Dr. Singh during his just concluded visit to the US where he made it clear that India does not support Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
It is for the third time in four years that India is voting against Iran at the IAEA.
The previous occasions when India voted against Iran were in September 2005 and February 2006 causing a minor political tornado in the country. The Left parties, who had propped up the UPA regime, accused the government of a “sellout” to the US because the nuclear deal was being negotiated then.
Three countries -- Venezuela, Malaysia and Cuba -- voted against the resolution while six countries -- Afghanistan, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey -- abstained.
Azerbaijan was absent from the vote.
The likely position that India would take today could be gauged by Dr. Singh’s remarks in the US.
Addressing the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR), a leading US think-tank, in Washington on Monday, Singh said, “As far as Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are concerned I have stated it unambiguously on several occasions that we don’t support nuclear ambitions of Iran.”
While as a signatory to NPT (Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty) it has all the rights that flow from the NPT for the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, it has obligations that go with its membership, he said in reply to a question.
“There is no ambiguity in our position and we are quite clear in our thinking that Iran should not go in for nuclear weapon or all that is inconsistent with obligations as member of NPT,” he said.
The Prime Minister had also made it clear that India would abide any sanctions imposed by the Security Council on Iran, but indicated that he favoured the path of engagement with Iran.
The resolution asked Tehran to reveal the purpose of the plant and the chronology of its construction and wanted it to “confirm ... that (it) has not taken a decision to construct, or authorise construction of, any other nuclear facility which has as yet not been declared to the agency.”
Significantly Russia and China, which had earlier been opposing any harsh move against Iran, also voted for the resolution which asked Iran to “suspend immediately” construction of the plant at Qom.
Moscow and Beijing have acted as a traditional drag on efforts to punish Iran for its nuclear defiance, either preventing new Security Council sanctions or watering down their potency.
They did not formally endorse the last IAEA resolution in 2006, which referred Iran to the Security Council, starting the process that has resulted in three sets of sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Their backing for the document at the Vienna meeting thus reflected broad international disenchantment with Tehran.
The resolution was approved after outgoing IAEA chief Mohammed Al Baradei said the talks with Iran to resolve the issue have reached the “dead end”, drawing a swift condemnation from Iran which said the move would “jeopardise the conducive environment” for dialogue.
Iran remained defiant, with its chief representative to the IAEA declaring that his country would resist “pressure, resolutions, sanction(s) and threat of military attack.”
Ali Asghar Soltanieh shrugged off the vote and said, “Neither resolutions of the board of governors nor those of the United Nations Security Council ... neither sanctions nor the treat of military attacks, can interrupt peaceful nuclear activities in Iran, even a second“.
Iran has argued that attacks on its nuclear programme are an assault on the rights of developing nations to create their own peaceful nuclear energy network. The US and other nations believed Iran’s nuclear program has the goal of creating nuclear weapons.
“The Western countries should not spoil the positive atmosphere. They should allow cooperation between Iran and the agency to continue its positive trend,” Iranian state TV quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh as saying.
The US and West have long suspected Iran of attempting to build a nuclear bomb. Iran has also been accused of enriching uranium at its bigger plant in Natanz for several years in defiance of UN sanctions, saying that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA resolution criticised Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment, apart from censuring it for secretly building the enrichment plant in Qom.
It noted that ElBaradei, who is set to retire in four days, cannot confirm that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively meant for peaceful uses.
The resolution voiced “serious concern” over Iran’s delaying of an IAEA probe which may mean that “the possibility of military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme” cannot be excluded.