Cablegate: A Nuclear Iran Still Unacceptable to India, but Delhi Questions Eventual Armed Confrontation

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/05/2015
REF: A. STATE 163143 (NOTAL) B. STATE 158145 (NOTAL) C. NEW DELHI 6804 (NOTAL)

Classified By: Ambassador David C. Mulford for Reasons 1.4 (b,d).

1. (S) Summary: Indian FS Saran listened attentively to Ambassador's views on Iran, including our disappointment with FM Natwar Singh's public statements on his September 3-4 visit to Tehran; and reaffirmed India's long-standing policy on Iran, ie, that Iran must comply with its international commitments, that Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear energy program, and (when pressed at the end of the meeting) that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The Foreign Secretary also repeatedly questioned what he characterized as the ultimate outcome of our aggressive approach to Iran -- namely, military confrontation. The Foreign Secretary urged giving dialogue with Iran more time. Ambassador pushed Saran hard to consider that India's own policy of fence-sitting in the hope that something positive would happen would only give Iran more time to work on its clandestine weapons program, and ultimately weaken prospects for a peaceful solution. Saran promised to convey the gist of our briefing and demarche, as well as an offer to brief the PM, to Natwar Singh, who had just returned from Tehran. Our message and briefing may have hit home finally with Saran; we will follow-up to see if India's calculus shifts toward helping us more in Vienna before the September 19 IAEA BOG meeting. End Summary.

Delivering the Mail (Wrapped in a Brick)

2. (S) As instructed, the Ambassador, joined by Washington briefers and Embassy officials, delivered points in Ref A to Indian Foreign Secretary Saran and MEA J/S (Americas) Dr. Jaishankar on September 5, 2005. The Ambassador took Saran to task for what we had perceived in media reports as an unacceptably weak set of statements on Iran's nuclear program by Natwar Singh while visiting Tehran. Ambassador explained that the time was drawing near for fence-sitters to make hard decisions for the good of regional security and stability. Many in Congress and throughout Washington, he reminded Saran, were watching India's treatment of Iran prior to Congressional debate on the US-India civilian nuclear initiative. The IAEA BOG meeting September 19 offered India a chance to be helpful. The Ambassador stressed the moment of truth was approaching, particularly as it was now clear that the Iranians were working feverishly to weaponize despite their public statements and undertakings to the EU3. India had a key voice in the NAM and could swing opinion in the BOG; it was time, he said, for us to know where India stood.

Our Tune Hasn't Changed

3. (S) Saran insisted there had been no ambiguity in Natwar Singh's statements in Tehran; the Minister had stuck with India's consistent formula, ie, the GOI recognizes Iran's right to pursue a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program, and Iran should comply with its international treaty commitments with regard to its nuclear programs. India believed Iran's nuclear programs was best ""sorted out"" with the EU3, and ""a slide into confrontation"" would not be useful. After Natwar's visit to Tehran, India realized the regime was ""hard line,"" but Saran affirmed India's support for continued dialogue. Any rupture, said Saran, would end whatever leverage the EU3 or IAEA might wield. Saran professed his belief that referral to the UNSC would cause greater turmoil in energy markets, which would be detrimental to India. India, he said, would continue to use its ties with Iran to convince it to avoid confrontation and stay on track.

Thrust and Parry

4. (S) Ambassador again reminded Saran that the entire time Iran had talked to the EU3, it had been cheating in secret, as the briefing we provided demonstrates. More delay and dialogue would just buy Iran the time it needed to complete its plans. The Ambassador called Saran out on neglecting to mention one key element of India's long-standing position, that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability was unacceptable. Saran demurred, saying even the IAEA had cited Iranian cooperation in its latest report, while noting unresolved questions; was that, he said, not enough proof that Iran was trying to be in compliance? The Ambassador dismissed that logic out-of-hand, saying Iran had already had three years of negotiations during which it had continued to develop a nuclear bomb in secret.

5. (S) At this juncture, Washington visitors delivered the briefing referred to in Ref B. Saran characterized the briefing as being more evidence of a delivery system than a bomb program, but the analysts outlined evidence of related technical functions and design characteristics that could only relate to the delivery of a nuclear weapon. Moreover, the analysts said denial and deception had continued in parallel with EU3 and IAEA talks. More talking would just give Iran more time to be ""completely dishonest."" Faced with the evidence, Saran again asked what it would take for the US to avoid the UN route. The Ambassador was clear: given Iran's clear willingness to deceive, time was of the essence. We have to act. A/DCM added that Washington still sought to make diplomacy work; Indian help at the BOG meeting would enhance diplomatic prospects for a solution. The EU-3 effort was launched in 2003 in lieu of UNSC referendum. Since that effort has run its course, it is time to go to the Council. At this, Saran conveyed that the Iranians had affirmed to Natwar their desire to avoid a confrontation, but needed a ""face-saving way out.""

All We Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance

6. (S) Saran again said armed confrontation was not helpful. It would, he said, be ""quite disastrous"" and the consequences needed to be thought through carefully. Armed conflict with Iran would impact India's interests. War was unacceptable to India, insisted Saran, and counseled us not to pursue a course of action with an unforeseen outcome. The Ambassador emphasized that India now had to calculate for itself which option was the least destructive of its national interests. America could not afford a nuclear Iran; could India?

When Squeezed: A Nuclear Iran is Unacceptable to India
--------------------------------------------- ---------

7. (S) When Ambassador for the second time reminded Saran of India's long-standing policy that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, Saran reiterated that third pillar of the formula. However, he again insisted that armed confrontation was also problematic. ""How do we get where we want to get?"" The Ambassador said if we keep letting the Iranians string us along, a weaponized Iran would be inevitable. India's policy seemed to be to keep the current diplomatic process going and hope that something ""works out."" The Ambassador expressed the view that India needed to face the reality that the something that would ""work out"" if this approach were followed is a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran. Meanwhile, the Ambassador emphasized that the diplomatic avenue was not yet at an end, but we needed our friends to use their influence. Saran promised to convey our points and the gist of our briefings to his leadership, especially EAM Natwar Singh, who had just returned from Tehran.

Ready to Brief PM Singh As Well

8. (S) The Ambassador said we would be happy to have the team brief the Prime Minister at his convenience, preferably before he saw POTUS at UNGA in September. Saran promised to convey the offer.

COMMENT: Do We Detect a Chink in the Armor?

9. (S) COMMENT: Ref C lays out our assessment of India's strategic interests with Iran. India needs to balance those interests with its expanding ties with Washington. We pushed Saran pretty hard, and although he pushed back with equal vigor we may have gotten our message through: it is time for India to make some hard decisions. We are approaching the moment when fence sitting will not be an option. We will keep pressing to see if India's position on Iran shifts as we head into the September 19 IAEA BOG meeting in Vienna. India has in the past played a helpful role on Iran in the BOG; we need to ensure they do so again.


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