Cablegate: Menon Says Ahmadinejad Played to Masses During
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Thursday, 01 May 2008, 11:39
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 NEW DELHI 001194
EO 12958 DECL: 05/01/2018
TAGS PREL, PGOV, KNNP, EPET, KISL, ENRG, ECON, ETRD, IR, IN
SUBJECT: MENON SAYS AHMADINEJAD PLAYED TO MASSES DURING
Classified By: Ambassador David Mulford for Reasons 1.4 (B and D)
1. (C) Summary: Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon related to the Ambassador May 1 that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Prime Minister during his April 29 stop in Delhi that the world is changing in Iran’s favor. When asked for specifics, Menon noted, Ahmadinejad voiced more mild opinions, and called for strengthening the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Regarding the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, Menon said that the Prime Minister laid down three criteria that would determine whether India signed a deal with Iran: commercial and economic viability, assured supply, and security. Menon confided that Ahmadinejad concocted the widely reported 45-day window for negotiating the pipeline when he talked to the press on his way to the airport, and Menon doubted that the countries would resolve the outstanding pipeline issues anytime soon. The Ambassador underlined that senior leaders in the U.S. Congress will likely criticize India for giving a platform to the leader of a country engaged in killing American soldiers in Iraq, developing nuclear weapons with which to blackmail other countries, and sponsoring terrorism worldwide. End Summary.
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Ahmadinejad Broadly Ideological But Mild on Specifics
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2. (C) Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon related to the Ambassador May 1 that he wanted to provide a briefing of the April 29 “transit stop” in Delhi by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Note: Menon had originally requested the meeting on the evening of April 30, but rescheduled when the Prime Minister summoned Menon to his residence. End Note.) Menon outlined that, after landing at the airport at 16:30, Ahmadinejad met the Indian President for 45 minutes, followed by a meeting and dinner with the Prime Minister, in which Menon participated. During the meeting with the Prime Minister, Menon related, Ahmadinejad described a world that has improved from Iran’s point of view, and would continue to shift in Iran’s favor. Menon admitted that “I had not realized how ideological Ahmadinejad is.” He noted that while Ahmadinejad did not attack the U.S. explicitly, he opined that the U.S. has destabilized Iraq and would withdraw soon. When asked about specifics, Menon continued, Ahmadinejad became “relatively mild.” Regarding Afghanistan, Ahmadinejad noted that there was no alternative to Hamid Karzai and called for strengthening the government in Kabul, and regarding Iraq, he called for greater law and order, but considered the Maliki government good. “There was no fire and brimstone in the details,” Menon observed.
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India Lays Down Criteria for Pipeline
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3. (C) Menon said that the discussion with the Prime Minister focused on the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, and Ahmadinejad made clear that he aimed to produce an agreement in Delhi. However, the Prime Minister laid down that India required more detailed discussions to obtain three conditions that would allow India to sign up to the IPI: commercial and economic viability, assured supply, and security of the pipeline. Ahmadinejad gave his word that the pipeline would satisfy those conditions, and asked that Indian leaders trust him. He then agreed to more detailed discussions, but to commence within a month. “We said no to artificial deadlines,” Menon stressed to the Ambassador. Ahmadinejad later told the press that the countries have 45 days to work out an agreement, but Menon maintained, “I don’t know where he got that number from, but his goal in India was to say that.” (Note: Menon has not corrected Ahmadinejad’s statement in public. End Note.) “We made clear that our issues are more than just the price of a transaction,” he underlined, averred that it would take a long time to resolve the conditions set out by the Indian government.
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India Pushes Iran for Full Disclosure in IAEA
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4. (C) Regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Menon related that Ahmadinejad reiterated his public points that Iran intended the program for peaceful use. Menon said that the Prime Minister acknowledged Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program, but urged Ahmadinejad to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions by coming clean with the IAEA, which Iran has not done. Ahmadinejad also made clear that the uranium enrichment program would continue, Menon added. India’s votes against Iran in the IAEA did not come up, he continued. Menon thanked the Ambassador for the April 27 briefing prior to Ahmadinejad’s arrival, and enthusiastically remarked that he found it “very useful.”
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Ahmadinejad Performed in Delhi
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5. (C) Menon puzzled about Ahmadinejad’s “self-congratulatory, self-referential” style, which he found particularly odd during an exchange about oil prices, during which Ahmadinejad bragged that the cost of oil would remain high. Ahmadinejad also bad-mouthed other countries, including China, which he claimed had put all its money in U.S. dollars and now had nothing left. As a result, Menon judged, “we assume he speaks badly about us to other countries.” Menon also noted that Ahmadinejad refrained from direct attacks on Israel, and did not bring up the Indian launch of an Israeli satellite nor the U.S.-India relationship. Overall, Menon assessed, Ahmadinejad appeared to have performed in Delhi for his domestic audience, showing Iranian voters that he can still travel and interact with other countries.
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Expect Senior-Level Criticism, Ambassador Warns
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6. (C) The Ambassador underlined that Americans, particularly members of Congress, will view Ahmadinejad’s visit as India providing a platform for an enemy of the U.S. Members of Congress and the Administration strongly believe that Ahmadinejad is guilty of killing Americans in Iraq, developing a nuclear weapons program to blackmail the world, and sponsoring international terrorist activities, the Ambassador outlined. Moreover, the U.S. has maintained a long-term alliance with Israel, which Ahmadinejad has called for “wiping off the face of the earth,” the Ambassador added. The average American will wonder why the U.S. has gone out of its way to have a nuclear cooperation initiative with India, when India is so friendly to Iran, he warned. “I cannot predict what the effect of this visit will be,” he cautioned, but noted that he expected the Ahmadinejad stop to exercise those members of Congress who have gone out of their way on India’s behalf.
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Nothing Should Upset You, Menon Presses
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7. (C) Menon responded that “there is nothing in this visit that should upset you.” He emphasized that the Indian government had little choice to say yes when the Iranian government requested a stop in transit. Moreover, Menon explained, India and Iran need to talk about Afghanistan and energy issues. “We can talk with him without affecting our other relationships,” Menon contended, and cited the strong India-Israel relationship that withstood India’s flirtation with Iran. Menon also cautioned the U.S. against telling India what to do, especially in public. “This government has to be seen following an independent foreign policy, not responding to dictation from the U.S.,” he stated. He recognized that Iran presents a global problem, and the U.S. and India differ in how to fix the situation because of geography. For instance, Menon pressed, India must work with Iran to deal with Afghanistan.
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Ambassador Asks If India Is Ready for Prime Time
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8. (C) The Ambassador recounted that the U.S. government and Congress stood up for India by passing the Hyde Act because they believed that as a rising power, India must come into the global nonproliferation system. However, the Ambassador posited, those supporters will wonder if India is ready for prime time since it “let the enemy in and did not stand up and say, ‘don’t do this.’” Menon countered that such a position sounded like what the Communists have accused the U.S. of doing. The Ambassador clarified that the Communists suspect the Indian and U.S. governments of trading foreign policies in a clandestine cabal, when in this case, the Ambassador simply wished to make the Indian government aware of the possible repercussions that come from hosting the hostile Ahmadinejad.
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Comment: India and Iran Relationship Needs No U.S. Interference
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9. (C) By providing Ahmadinejad with a platform to berate the U.S., the Indian government has attempted to prove that it has an independent foreign policy, as the Communist critics have demanded since India’s first vote against Iran in the IAEA in 2005. By kowtowing to political concerns, India has put at risk its image of an emerging, responsible major player in the world. We have warned the Indian government quietly about the implications, but sharp, public comments from the U.S. government will only push India and Iran closer together. MULFORD