As the United States and its western allies press ahead with efforts to impose tough penalties on Iran, leaders and officials from two major international groupings -- BRIC and IBSA -- meeting in Brasilia this week took a contrary view, agreeing that new sanctions would not help resolve the nuclear issue.
The April 15 Brasilia meetings saw Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sit down first with President Lula da Silva and President Jacob Zuma for the India-Brazil-South Africa summit and then with Lula, and Presidents Dmitri Medvedev and Hu Jintao for the second Brazil-Russia-India-China summit.
On the sidelines, India’s national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, took part in a meeting of BRIC senior security officials alongside Nikolai Patrushev of Russia and Dai Binguuo of China. Earlier in the week, Mr. Menon also met with his U.S. counterpart, James L. Jones, who provided a detailed description of Washington’s current approach to the Iran issue.
Giving an account of the intra-BRIC exchanges on Iran, a senior Indian official said, “All of us agreed that we don’t think sanctions will help solve the current problems with Iran.” In addition, there was agreement that dialogue and diplomacy were essential and that the central role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in settling the Iran nuclear docket had to be re-established.
The official said the BRIC nations agreed Iran had the right to nuclear energy but that it also has an obligation to set at rest international fears about the nature of its nuclear programme.
Despite this collective questioning of sanctions, however, the official said that India’s understanding was that, ultimately, there would be a sanctions resolution but that that the measures would not go much further beyond what the UN Security Council has already agreed. “There may be more financial sanctions but nothing on petroleum.”, the official said. “But this is pure guesswork on our part, because the actual negotiations on this will be conducted between the five permanent members of the UNSC in New York and later with the other non-permanent members”.
Though the BRIC summit statement did not touch on Iran, the IBSA communiqué said the three leaders “reiterated the need for a peaceful and diplomatic solution of the issue”.
Indian officials said President Lula would be going to Iran next month and that his visit had added significance since Brazil was a non-permanent member of the Security Council through 2011. Another factor which might have a bearing on sanctions was that Lebanon – whose government has tended not to support the U.S. on Iran – would assume the rotating chair of the UNSC in May.
The official said that although President Barack Obama had told Prime Minister Singh the proposed sanctions would not target the ordinary people of Iran, the Indian side was not convinced about this.
“We are not sure what they mean when they say they don’t intend to target ordinary people with sanctions. Our experience is that ordinary people do suffer while those in power do not, and in fact the support for such regimes actually increases”.
India’s willingness publicly to question, if not oppose, economic sanctions on Iran marks a slight shift in approach on the part of New Delhi. Earlier, Indian views on Iran would begin with a reiteration of the country’s opposition to Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons before making the wider point that dialogue was essential. In the past few months, however, the Manmohan Singh government has foregrounded its belief that sanctions are not the answer.
India buys a significant amount of crude oil from Iran. Until 2009, Indian companies like Reliance also sold refined products to Iran but have withdrawn from the market as American pressure on banks around the world has made it more difficult to open letters of credit.