Nuclear South Asia: Iran fires a shot at India

May 4, 2009

Iran looks like it will come out swinging at a global conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opening in New York on Monday, and in the process take a swipe at Israel as well as India.

And that is a bit of a shift, for India and Iran have ties going back into history, but which have in recent years come under pressure and play in the tangled relationship between India and Pakistan.

Iran, according to this Reuters story, has submitted papers to the NPT conference accusing the United States of violating the treaty by developing new nuclear weapons and providing nuclear aid to Israel and India. The target is clearly Washington and according to the story an attempt by Tehran to deflect attention from its own nuclear programme.

But by turning the spotlight on India, is it risking turning off an old friend, a civilisational ally?

India and the United States sealed a deal under which Washington would help India expand its civilian nuclear energy programme, even though New Dehi has refused to sign the NPT or renounce its nuclear weapons. New Delhi has long argued that the NPT was discriminatory allowing the five countries – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – which are also the permanent members of the UN Security Council to possess nuclear weapons while prohibiting others from doing do so.

Iran is questioning that deal as did Pakistan, which sought a similar pact from Washington  to boost its nuclear programme to meet its energy requirements. But the Bush administration which pushed the deal despite reservations in the U.S. Congress and outside from non-proliferation experts said there was a difference between India and Pakistan.

Indeed, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are back in focus as President Asif Ali Zardari heads to Washington for meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama this week just as the military continues to fight the Taliban 60 miles from Islamabad.

The New York Times said in a report ahead of the meeting that the spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that its weapons are safe.  The two sides may take up the issue this week, it said.

Will India crop up again in those discussions, especially when America tries to lean on Islamabad for more transparency of its nuclear weapons? The Pakistani nuclear programme,  like its huge conventional military force, is geared toward meeting the threat it feels from India. So is Islamabad going to join the Iranians and  take up the India-U.S. nuclear deal to counter the pressure on its programme?

Or is Washington in no mood now to listen to the Pakistani army’s deepest fears – the rise of a nuclear-armed India with with new economic heft?

[File photo of Indian rocket launch to put satellite in space]

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