IAEA abstention on Iran in line with India’s Russia, non-alignment policy

IAEA abstention on Iran in line with India’s Russia, non-alignment policy

India was one of only three countries, other than Pakistan and Libya, who abstained from the resolution criticising Iran for flouting IAEA requests

As Iran’s government went into collision course with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), India’s abstention vote during an IAEA board of governors meeting this week is being seen as a significant show of support for Tehran, and a reassertion of its “non-aligned” stance as seen on its policy on Russia and the war in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, India was one of only three countries, other than Pakistan and Libya who abstained from the resolution criticising Iran for flouting IAEA requests for inspections of its nuclear programme and other processes. Of the 35-nation Board of Governors of the IAEA, 30 countries voted for the resolution brought by US and “E-3” nations U.K., Germany and France, while Russia and China voted against it.

“India’s vote was expected, given that the Iranian Foreign Minister was in town. It is also consistent with recent statements by the government in terms of asserting independent foreign policy choices,” said former Ambassador and special envoy on nuclear issues Rakesh Sood, adding that the abstention marks a “middle ground” between the positions taken by the US and Europe vis-a-vis Russia and China. 

The vote took place on Wednesday, even as Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian began an official visit to India, meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. While the Ministry of External Affairs did not mention their talks on the IAEA meeting and resolution explicitly, an official statement released on Wednesday night said that Mr. Abdollahian “briefed the External Affairs Minister on the current situation pertaining to the JCPOA,” referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on nuclear issues agreed to by Iran in 2015, which the U.S. walked out of in 2019. Since the US walk out, talks on the JCPOA have flagged, and the nuclear watchdog body, the IAEA has complained about Iran restricting access to its personnel.

On Tuesday, in a report he presented after visiting Iran, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the Board that the IAEA had last verified and monitored the implementation of Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPOA.

“However, since that date, these activities have been seriously affected by Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, including the Additional Protocol,” Mr. Gross said, in remarks that led to the resolution which criticises Tehran for not cooperating, particularly over allegations that uranium traces were found at undeclared sites.

The Iranian government led by President Ebrahim Raisi denied the charges, saying it has “no hidden or undocumented nuclear activities or undisclosed sites,” and accusing the IAEA for being “ungrateful” for its cooperation, which it says it continued even after the US Trump administration reneged on its commitments to lift sanctions and walked out of the JCPOA deal the previous US Obama government had signed. On Wednesday, Iran also began to dismantle some cameras placed by the IAEA for monitoring nuclear work as well, which raised concerns over future data collection.

“You think we would retreat from our positions if you pass a resolution at the (IAEA) Board of Governors? In the name of God and the great nation of Iran, we will not back off a single step from our positions,” Mr. Raisi said in a speech, as Iran’s atomic agency informed the IAEA that Iran planned remove equipment including 27 cameras placed by the IAEA after the 2015 agreement on the JCPOA, in addition to those already in place.

The MEA declined to comment on India’s decision to abstain from the vote, much as it did on the vote against Russia on March 3 for the war in Ukraine. As tensions rise, India’s decision not to go with the U.S. and European countries, is seen as a vote in support of Iran and a reassertion of India’s policy of “non-alignment” that has been referred to by the government in the past few weeks.

In a column he wrote, Home Minister Amit Shah said that “non-alignment and the goal of a free and fair global order” has been one of the “key” features of the Modi government’s foreign policy. When asked by students of IIT Guwahati about India’s non-aligned policy, Mr. Jaishankar said that in a polarised world India must be “clear about our interests and we have to be confident of pursuing it. We have to be skilled to build a narrative and harmonise our interests with as many of the international community as possible.”

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