US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday in New Delhi (Pic: http://meaindia.nic.in)
In recent months, India’s continuing import of oil from Iran has become a source of considerable unease for the United States as it goes about stepping up international pressure against Tehran’s nuclear program. In fact, it is even seen by some as seriously weighing down bilateral relations between India and the U.S.
However, if Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s just concluded three-day visit to India is any indication that issue may have lost some of its sting. At the conclusion of her visit Clinton said in New Delhi Tuesday, "The US and India share the same goal as far as to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And India is a strong partner in urging Iran to adhere to its international obligations."
Clinton’s Indian vis-à-vis S M Krishna, said the two sides discussed the importance of a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue but also qualified it saying it must be based on the position that Iran has its rights as a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"But it (Iran) must also abide by its obligations as a non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT," he said, and added, "this issue, however, is not a source of discord" between India and the US.
I am sure there is appreciation in Washington about New Delhi’s complex economic, energy and security stakes in West Asia generally and the Persian Gulf particularly. Its trade with the region is $100 billion with 60 percent of its oil coming from there. Also, billions of dollars of remittances that India receives annually from some six million Indian expatriates working in the region are also a key factor.
Krishna made it a point to enunciate this when he said, "Iran is a key country for our energy needs. But we have to look at Iran issue beyond the issue of energy trade."
I would not be surprised if New Delhi has bee playing an important behind-the-scenes role in gently nudging and persuading Tehran to reconsider its nuclear program and keep it in line with its NPT obligations. I also suspect that Washington might have reasoned that it is better to have a credible insider like India doing the global bidding with Iran. Of course, I have no specific basis to make this claim other than putting some commonsense pieces together.
On a separate note, although she can always visit India again before the end of the first term of the Obama administration, it is fair to assume that this was probably Clinton’s farewell visit to the country as Secretary of State. She ought to feel heartened by the sanguine endorsement she receives for her to run for president every time she visits India. Unlike here in America, the region of South Asia has a particular comfort level with choosing women to lead their countries. A lot of South Asians find it hard to reconcile America’s image as the bastion of liberal democracy with the fact that it demonstrates such reluctance to elect a woman president.