India's Vote Against Iran Explained
A few days ago, I noted that India was among the countries that voted in favor of the watered-down IAEA resolution stating that Iran has violated its nuclear treaty obligations by secretly developing a nuclear program. Subsequently, I noted that India’s yea vote surprised the Iranians and called into question a recent deal that would have India import $22 billion of liquefied natural gas from Iran.
Why was India willing to risk Iran’s wrath?
For the answer, we need to go back to mid-July, when President Bush reached an agreement with Prime Minister Singh to let India secure international help for its civilian nuclear reactors while retaining its nuclear arms. The agreement, if approved by Congress (and other nuclear countries), would remove a ban on civilian nuclear technology sales to India and with it a decades-long source of antagonism between the two countries. India could obtain nuclear fuel and reactor components from the US and other countries, and in return would allow international inspections and safeguards on its civilian nuclear program, and refrain from further weapons tests and from transferring arms technology to other countries.
For the Bush administration, the agreement represents a major step forward in its effort to improve ties with India, in part as a counterweight to China. For India, it elevates the international standing and prestige of the world’s most populous democracy. In the words of their Foreign Secretary,
We are looking at complete removal of the restrictive technology regimes that India has been subjected to for decades. What this agreement says is that we are willing to assume the same responsibilities and practices — no more and no less — as other nuclear states.
Needless to say, the likelihood of our Congress approving the agreement would have been diminished had India not voted in favor of the IAEA resolution. In deciding how to vote, India had to consider the possible consequences of voting no, as well as yes.