Press Briefing by Foreign Secretary on the events in UN and IAEA
September 26, 2005
MEA OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON (SHRI NAVTEJ SARNA): Good morning everybody. Sorry for pulling you out at what is an unearthly hour for most of us here. We have Foreign Secretary here. We have the advantage that he has just come back from New York and he wanted to brief you. So, I will just hand over the mike.
FOREIGN SECRETARY (SHRI SHYAM SARAN): Thank you very much. I would like to add my apologies to Navtej’s for gunning you out early this morning. The only excuse I have I am still quite wide awake having come back from New York just midnight last night. So, I am on a slightly different body clock as it were.
I thought I will take this opportunity of just briefing you on some of the events which have taken place in New York and after that also in Vienna which is also a matter of some preoccupation to you. Let me try and give you a sense of the Session which has been held in New York, the UN Session. One I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we participated very actively in the negotiation of the Outcome Document of the High-Level Segment of the United Nations General Assembly.
This Outcome Document is far more modest than we had originally envisaged. We had looked upon the High-Level Segment as really endorsing a programme of very comprehensive reform of the United Nations and as a centerpiece of that comprehensive reform, the reform of the UN Security Council itself. You are aware of the fact that for various reasons on the Security Council reform itself there has not been a great deal of progress. But, the Outcome Document at least sets out the roadmap for some modest changes in the United Nations structure. There are important decisions for example, in terms of setting up of a Human Rights Council, a Peace-Building Commission, the reform of the structure of management itself of the United Nations. In all of these what is going to really happen is in the subsequent weeks we are going to be now looking out to flash out some of the details of these reforms.
With respect to the UN Security Council reform, a new deadline has been given by the Secretary-General that by December end we should move ahead on Security Council reform. I wanted to give you a sense of how we are looking at this particular aspect of our foreign policy which is very important. We have been in touch with the other members of the G-4. There was a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the G-4 in New York. We decided that G-4 should maintain its solidarity. That is very important that we will continue to move ahead on the basis of agreed strategy of the G-4.
The second aspect that has been agreed upon is that we will all work together with our African friends to see whether we could before the end of December come up with a common draft which would be incorporating essentially what has come to be known as the London Compromise which was agreed upon by some of the Ministers of the African Union and G-4. So, this is what is currently the work in progress. We hope that we should be able to move ahead on this. We are optimistic. We found that there is a considerable sentiment amongst African countries who recognize the point that we have been making to them that the biggest beneficiary of the UN Security Council reform as we envisage it would be Africa. And, in a sense, the biggest losers if this does not go through would also be Africa since it has been given the lion’s share of both the permanent seats as well as non-permanent seats. So, that is one important element.
Then, of course, our presence in New York was utilized for a very large number of bilateral meetings, group meetings. We had meeting of the SAARC Foreign Ministers and all the Ministers agreed that the forthcoming SAARC Summit is going to be an important and landmark summit. We have agreed that we should have a substantive agenda for this Summit. Our effort should be to move SAARC from a stage of making declaratory statements to a stage of actually doing some collaborative work. There was an exchange of views on matters such as setting up of the Poverty Alleviation Fund. We have also been talking to each other about the possibility of Afghanistan joining as a new member of SAARC and a number of other issues which are likely to come up during the Summit. For example, there are specific proposals for dealing with disaster management which is particularly important in the wake of the tsunami disaster that some of the SAARC countries have faced. So, that was one important meeting.
We also had some other meetings with some of the regional groups, for example, with the Andean Group and the Gulf Cooperation Council. All these meetings gave us an opportunity to renew and strengthen our association with these important countries.
As you know, during the time that we were in New York the question of the Iran nuclear issue also came up. We were in touch with the Foreign Ministers of the EU-3, that is, Britain, France and Germany, concerning the deliberations which were taking place at that time in Vienna. The Iranian Foreign Minister was also in New York during this time. We had several occasions to also exchange views with him. I would like to give you a little background to the vote that took place in Vienna on a draft resolution put forward by the EU-3 on which India voted in favour.
First of all, I would like to point out that we have been all along very supportive of the EU-3 because we saw the EU-3 initiative vis-à-vis Iran as giving a way out for a possible compromise, a reasonable compromise on what is a sensitive issue. We supported the decision which was arrived at between Iran and the EU-3 on the suspension of conversion activity at the Iranian nuclear facility at Isfahan. Now, when this conversion activity, which was suspended, was resumed this obviously caused a degree of concern. The previous resolution which was adopted by consensus at the IAEA in August, I think it was on 11th of August this year, there was a consensus request made to Iran to go back to suspension of the conversion activity.
Now, because this matter had still not been resolved, there were intensive consultations which were taking place, firstly among the EU-3 and Iran. We ourselves were talking to the EU-3. At the level of the Foreign Ministers itself there were a number of interactions at New York. This was also the subject of discussions when the Prime Minister was in Paris for his bilateral visit and, as I mentioned to you, there were a number of meetings which took place with the Foreign Minister of Iran himself.
Our effort was focused on trying to find a way out of the kind of confrontation which seemed to be developing on this issue. The two elements which appeared to us, which would in fact lead towards that confrontation, were (1) the insistence on the part of the EU-3 and some of the other western countries to immediately take this matter to the Security Council, (2) the point that was being made by the Non-Aligned countries that we should not be in too much of a haste, that we should allow time for further negotiations and consultations to take place, especially because a new Government had taken office in Teheran. This was also something which was being resisted initially by the EU-3.
We felt that we had in fact made a successful effort in persuading the EU-3 to concede on these two matters because if they had not conceded on these two matters, then there was very much a likelihood of a confrontation developing. So, as a result of the great deal of effort made by us as also some other countries, the EU-3 finally decided in the draft that they presented which was voted upon that (1) there would not be an immediate reference to the Security Council and (2) also allow time for this matter to be discussed further and only subsequently for the Board to take a decision depending upon what had been achieved in the meantime.
The question has been raised by some people as to why India did not abstain like some of the other Non-Aligned countries. The reason for that is very simple. The reason is that we in a sense made a major effort with the EU-3 countries to dilute some of the provisions of the draft and to make them concede on these two points which are very important for Iran’s interests. Since they did concede these two critical points we were making, I think in terms of diplomacy, having got them to agree to what we wanted, then to say that we will only abstain on the resolution would not have been a correct position for us to take.
With respect to Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy, that is something which we have ourselves no reservations about. This is something which was clearly spelt out in the explanation of vote by our Permanent Representative to the IAEA. That we do not believe that the time has come for this matter to be remitted to the Security Council is also a point that we have clearly made. We have also clearly stated in the explanation of vote that we certainly do not regard the current situation as constituting any kind of threat to international peace and security. But on balance, since our main objective was to prevent the referral of this matter to the Security Council, and (2) to have sufficient amount of time for further negotiations, for further consultations to take place, on balance we decided that we should vote in favour of the resolution.
I would like to make it very clear here that our objective all along has been to be as helpful as possible to Iran with which we enjoy very close and cordial friendly relations. There is certainly no implication that India has any reservations about Iran’s pursuit of a peaceful nuclear energy programme consistent with global nonproliferation norms. That is something on which there should be no ambiguity. And there is no sense that India decided to vote in favour of this resolution because we were having some problems with Iran on other issues, that is certainly not the case. This was a judgment made after making a very careful assessment of the pros and cons, and in pursuit of a policy of avoiding confrontation and having enough time available to us to work out an acceptable compromise. So, I hope our decision is taken in that light.
To conclude, I would also bring to your attention the fact that in abstaining on this resolution – that 12 countries who abstained on this resolution – in fact in a sense agreed to its passage. There was only one country which sought a vote on the resolution. If that country had not sought a vote on this resolution, in fact the tradition is of having resolutions on this issue being passed by consensus and that would also have been the case this time as well. So, I think please take an overall view of this matter. I do not think that there should be too much speculation about what are the reasons why India decided to vote for this resolution.
QUESTION: What is Iran’s reaction to this? Do you think it would affect our energy security?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I see no reason why there should be because as I said our role, which Iran is familiar with, has been precisely to be as supportive as possible in terms of preventing this matter being taken to the Security Council which would have been a very major setback for Iran. We have been playing a role which has been supportive of Iran. I see no reason why there should be apprehension that there would be any kind of impact on our energy security.
QUESTION: Have you got any feedback yet?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: The feedback we have is that Iran has not walked out of the NPT. Iran has announced that it will continue to cooperate with the IAEA which gives us a sense that the door is open for further consultations and negotiations, which is what our objective has been.
QUESTION: I am from the Associated Press. Did American pressure apply to your decision at all, not direct pressure from President Bush but you know … is with the Congress right now and some of the Congressmen had harsh words for India …over the last few weeks. Did that factor affect your decision at all?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: We know what the American position was but on this particular issue we were dealing mainly with the EU-3 and with some of the other key countries in the IAEA. As I said, the judgment that we made on a vote on this resolution was a judgment made after very careful consideration of all the issues involved. We felt that the resolution as it was passed addressed the main preoccupations which India had. Those preoccupations were, first, that they should not be taken to the Security Council, and as you know this was something which was not something that the US originally wanted. They wanted that this matter should be taken to the Security Council immediately which we did not agree with. Secondly, we wanted that there should be more time allowed for consultations which was also something that the United States of America was not in favour of. But I think it was good that all countries including the United States of America came around to what finally was agreed upon in this resolution.
QUESTION: A quick follow up. This being seen as a big shift in the Indian foreign policy away from the old non-aligned allies towards the West. Did you share that assessment that this is a shift towards a more pro-Western foreign policy more in line with Europe and United States?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I do not think that you should interpret India’s position as being aligned on the Left or on the Right or aligned with this group of countries or that group of countries. I think India has all along taken decisions on issues of concern to itself on the basis of its own assessment, and on the basis of its own national interest. So, the question of this representing a shift in India’s policy does not arise. And, as I said, much of the effort that we made, the diplomatic effort that we made, was in fact on behalf of Iran.
QUESTION: Mr. Saran, the resolution itself is based upon the IAEA report and that report does not hold Iran to be in non-compliance with either the statute of the Agency or the NPT. Yet the resolution says that.
Secondly, the caveats and reservations that you have yourself expressed namely that you do not believe that this is a concern fort international peace and security and yet the resolution precisely that by referring Iran to the Security Council which is in charge of matters of international peace and security. In view of this the factual basis upon which the resolution is based itself is flawed and you have yourself reservations and caveats. Would not it have been more logical for you to abstain from a vote which in effect is preparing the ground for a reference to the Security Council?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Any resolution which is adopted in any UN body or in any multination agency is usually a compromise amongst different kinds of viewpoints which are expressed. I do not think that any country or any group of countries would be able to find each and every aspect of its viewpoint represented in the draft. So, I think if you look at the draft resolution, the draft resolution is also a kind of a compromise amongst different viewpoints. The question is, whether on balance it is something which hinders the search for a compromise, search for a negotiated solution or is it something which leads us towards confrontation. If you look carefully at the draft, even though there may be a reference to article XII C and to article III B, it is not something which is held to be currently operational. It is something that is left to the subsequent meeting of the Board to determine whether or not there is any kind of further action required under these provisions. What it says is that currently there is no reference to the Security Council.
I think, for us the main issue was how to avoid something becoming a confrontation at this point because if there had been a reference to the Security Council at this point, Iran itself had said that it would walk out of the NPT, it would rubbish the IAEA additional protocol, it would perhaps begin enrichment activity - all the kind of things which would have led to a major confrontation.
So, I think what is important is that by working together with the three European countries and other delegations we were able to head off something which could have become a major point of confrontation between Iran and the international community. Secondly, we were very keen that the process of consultation which was taking place and which by the way seemed to be making some headway - there was a degree of flexibility being shown by Iran and also by the EU-3 countries but it did not come to a point where the two sides could actually agree upon a course of action. But the trend was in that direction. So, the other preoccupation that we had was that this trend which was already visible should be given full opportunity for further consultation so that some kind of an acceptable compromise could come.
Now, we could have asked for much more in the draft resolution. As I said, there are elements in the draft which we do not agree with. But, on balance, in terms of the major preoccupations that we had, we felt that the resolution took care of those preoccupations.
QUESTION: Mr. Saran, what is India’s stand on conversion? Is it a violation of the NPT? As a signatory to the NPT does not Iran have a right to convert? Is it our understanding that Iran is building a nuclear weapon because
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Number one, the suspension of the conversion activity was accepted by the EU-3 itself as a confidence building measure. So, nobody is saying that this is something which is required, legally required, …
QUESTION: But the whole basis of the EU thing is for political football that is being played. Countries which have no diplomatic relations are a party to this whole effort. How is this violative of the NPT?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: Number one, we are not an NPT member. No, we have not said a word about NPT responsibilities or obligations. As far as the conversion activity is concerned, the suspension on conversion was something which was agreed upon freely between the EU-3 and Iran. So, it is not as if we have had anything to do with the …
QUESTION: I want your opinion Sir, it is not about EU-3, is it our opinion that it is violative of the NPT?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: It is not. I have already said that it is not. It is already agreed between Iran and the EU-3 that this is a confidence building measure. So, where is the question of a legal obligation?
QUESTION: Sir, what I am asking is that this is the first time that you have revealed that all these meetings have been taking place. So far till the resolution was passed, I went with the External Affairs Minister to Iran he said not a word. Nobody knew that India was part of this great diplomatic negotiation that was going on. It is for the first time that we are being told. Is this a transparent way of doing things? You issue a statement at midnight that this is the vote. It was pre-decided that India is going to vote in this manner.
FOREIGN SECRETARY: That is, I am afraid, you are making assumptions which are not based on facts. As far as our consultations with various parties are concerned, they are … Why should you expect that on all delicate negotiations a blow-by-blow account should be given to the press? Our viewpoint concerning Iran nuclear issue has been publicly articulated by the Prime Minister himself on numerous occasions because this question has been raised during the time when he went to Paris; this question was raised when he was in New York at the end-of- the-visit press conference; and India’s viewpoint was very clearly articulated. So, for you to say that somehow or the other we are not being transparent and we are keeping everybody in the dark, I think is not a correct view to take.
With regard to our consultations with other countries, this is something which is normal diplomacy. Why should it be something which you take great exception to? We are in the business of trying to, after all this is a country in our region. If a confrontational situation developed, it would have an impact on India’s interest too. It makes sense for India to try and play a constructive role in terms of preventing a confrontation from developing. It would not be helpful to India’s interests. And what have we done therefore? Listen… As far as this particular issue is concerned, it would not have been helpful to India as it would not have been helpful to Iran if this matter were immediately transmitted to the Security Council. If no time had been given for further negotiations, further consultations – that would have been harmful to India’s interests. That would have also been harmful to Iran’s interests. Now, if we have played a role in preventing that from happening, and in gaining time for further negotiations to take place, I cannot see how anybody can take exception to this and say that we have somehow been non-transparent. I have given you a very careful assessment of why we felt it necessary to vote for this resolution. The whole purpose of having this press conference is precisely to share those details and be transparent. I think you are expecting too much if you want that every time we are going in for some vote we should call a press conference and say look this is how we are negotiating something and this is what is going to be our vote. I think that is a very unrealistic expectation.
QUESTION: On the pipeline sir, the Iran-India pipeline, do you think it is in India’s national interest?
FOREIGN SECRETARY: I think the decision concerning the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is a decision which will be taken on the basis of the economic viability of the project. If this is a project which will enhance India’s energy security, if it is a project which is going to be economical from India’s point of view, certainly it would be in our national interest and we would go ahead.