India’s Vote Against Iran –– Mature Diplomacy

By Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta & Anupam Kishore Sinha


New Delhi, 31 December 2005

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wound up debates on Iran's nuclear program in Vienna on November 24–25, 2005. Director-General Mohamed El Baradei welcomed recent Iranian actions, including the provision of additional documents, interviews with relevant individuals and further access, after it was found to have broken its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by concealing its activities for nearly two decades. He called on Iran to take speedy action to provide additional information and take other measures that are indispensable for ensuring that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes. Iran's nuclear programme has been a matter of concern since 2003, when the US and other EU countries had alleged it to be involved in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. However, the period from September 24 to November 24, 2005 generated considerable heat about the conduct of foreign policy relations, which are analysed in this article.

What happened on September 24, 2005?

Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). According to the provisions of the treaty it is required to meet certain obligations in terms of safeguards by supplying information to the IAEA. In view of the allegations, a resolution was adopted by the IAEA Board to refer the Iranian nuclear issue to the UNSC. Consequently, India voted in favor of the resolution on September 24, 2005, thereby supporting the referral of the matter to the Security Council (SC) and thus in a way going against the Iranian cause. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 22–1. The important aspect of the voting on the resolution was that 12 countries abstained including two major countries –– Russia and China. This had further made the Indian strategic community to critique the whole issue.

What Was IAEA Resolution About?

According to the resolution Iran was held guilty of non-compliance in the context of Article XII-C of the IAEA Statute, which inter alia allows the IAEA Board “to report the non compliance to… the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations.” The resolution also entails Iran’s nuclear activities and the Agency’s “resulting absence of confidence” and that its programme is exclusively meant for peaceful purpose”. The Resolution said it: “….finds also that the history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities referred to in the Director General’s report, the nature of these activities, issues brought to light in the course of the Agency’s verification of declarations made by Iran since September 2002 and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council…” The resolution was sponsored by EU-Three (United Kingdom, France and Germany).

Arguments Against the Indian Move

A wide cross section of Indian intelligentsia had criticized the move as a ‘foreign policy blunder’. Some were of the opinion that when countries like Russia and China abstained then India had no reason to cast a positive vote thereby damaging both Iran and India’s relations with Iran beyond repair. The following arguments were put forward against India’s move:

  • It amounts to compromising the independence of Indian foreign policy for the sake of strengthening its strategic partnership with United States. Indian policy makers must understand that US foreign policy is guided by realpolitik in the World rather than any other idealistic considerations of nuclear weapons-free world or a World where peace prevails.

  • United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s foreign policy suffers from insecurity, a poor understanding of international realities, a lack of confidence in the nation’s strategic weight, and an absence of belief in commitment to genuine independence and non alignment. This is because the countries of the Third World are looking towards India to provide a leadership to the group so that they can translate the dream of New International Economic Order into a reality thereby bringing an end to the present world order based on exploitation.

  • Left parties, a coalition partner of UPA at the Centre, vehemently opposed the vote. CPI (M) said that the government gave in to the US pressure and had gone back on its stated stand. Government had given up India’s policy of non-alignment to accommodate with EU and US. The facts that Iran had been our friend since long and was presently helping us with strengthening our energy security through the Iran–India pipeline which was envisaged to fetch five-million-tonnes of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) per year, strongly supported their arguments.

  • Given the India–Iran relations in the field of trade and commerce and joint economic ventures, it was being said that it would come as a serious setback to the growing economic relations between the two countries.

Arguments in Favour

  • The UPA government justified that India’s vote was based on the merits of the issue without any US pressure or deal during July 18, 2005 agreement. Even then some of its own coalition partners and others had criticized it.

  • Iran’s long support to Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir entailed a tacit approval of the Pak sponsored cross border terrorism in which India was at the receiving end. Therefore, there was something inherently wrong with Iran’s international personality and its pursuits. Consequently, India did the right thing by supporting the referral of the matter to the Security Council thereby empowering the EU and US to take further action.

  • That the agreement of July 18, 2005, on civilian nuclear supplies between India and US, cast a shadow on India’s stand at the vote was contested. It was also stated at the House International Relations Committee (US) that there was always a quid pro quo in international relations and India could not have been utterly unmindful of US aspirations and then expect the Congress to support a deal extending US civilian nuclear co-operation. It meant that India had given some sort of promise to US towards its vote on Iran in exchange for US cooperation for its own peaceful nuclear program. The International system thus far had proved to be a self-help system and countries calculated their actions in terms of national interest.

  • The most important threat perception that the world community faced today was “international terrorism”. Still more catastrophic was the probability of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) falling into the hands of these international terrorists. Iranian President Md. Ahmedinejad during his visit to Turkey talked of making available enrichment technology to other Islamic countries, which further strengthened this argument. One can only imaging the scale of menace of such happenings.


One should ascertain the long-term gains of the Indian vote rather than criticise the initiative driven by the imperatives of party-politics. Certainly, that hurts India's standing, prestige and self-cultivated vanity as a serious and responsible power worthy of a seat in the UNSC. If India is a serious contender of a permanent seat at UNSC then the immediate need is to have its own international personality and a constructive role in international relations. Rather than a consequence of US pressure the move should be seen in the context of regional and international security. Diplomatic decisions should not be parochial. One needs to take into consideration a holistic perspective than to be swayed by emotive and irrelevant issues. Iran cannot be denied the sovereign right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes but in accordance with certain internationally recognized guidelines.


  1. “India, Iran and the Congressional hearings on the Indo-US nuclear deal”, The Hindu, October 01, 2005.

  2. Parakash Karat, “Betrayal on Iran: Cost of India-US partnership”, The Indian Express, September 30, 2005.

  3. Amit Baruah, “India’s IAEA vote was decided in advance”, The Hindu, September 26, 2005.

  4. “Iran tempers anger, says India deals on Track”, The Indian Express, September 29, 2005.

  5. Siddharth Varadarajan, “The Persian Puzzle-I, II, III”, The Hindu, September 21-23, 2005.

  6. Philippe Douste-Blazy, Joshka Fischer, Javier Solana, and Jack Straw, “Iran must work to rebuild confidence”, The Hindu, September 24, 2005.

  7. “IAEA Board Chairman's conclusion on sub-item 3(b)”, Islamic Republic News Agency, November 25, 2005.

  8. “ElBaradei optimist about resumption of Iran-EU talks”, Islamic Republic News Agency, November 25, 2005.

(Dr. Alok Kumar Gupta is an Assistant Professor in Faculty of Policy Sciences at National Law University, Jodhpur and Anupam Kishore Sinha is a student in the Faculty of Legal Studies at the same University)


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