MADRAS, India — India needs natural gas from Iran and nuclear technology from America. New Delhi chose to give priority to the latter, and went along with the European resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency asking Tehran to comply with its nuclear obligations. Iran has been asked to sort out its nuclear problems with the IAEA, so for the time being, the issue will not be raised in the United Nations Security Council.

But India’s decision has been lambasted by some in the media. The Hindu editorialized: The decision to vote against Iran at the crucial meeting of the Board of Governors of the IAEA is evidence of the Singh government’s shameful willingness to abandon the independence of Indian foreign policy for the sake of strengthening its strategic partnership with the United States. The Bush administration had agreed to cooperate with India on its civilian nuclear needs.

Bharatiya Janata Party, one of India’s major parties and now in the opposition, has asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the reason for this turnabout in foreign policy. For decades, New Delhi had been supportive of Islamic nations, primarily because of its own very large Muslim population.

With India’s energy needs expanding rapidly, Iranian gas and oil is of vital importance. For New Delhi, however, nuclear cooperation with the U.S. appears to have taken a greater priority, at least for the time being.

But analysts say that New Delhi’s ambiguity over Iran’s nuclear proliferation could have a devastating effect on the U.S. congressional debate about nuclear cooperation with India.

Top U.S. officials, however, were careful not to link these two issues. U.S. Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said, “India has its own interests, and they do not always intersect with ours. But an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is in no one’s interest.”

Tehran, of course, feels differently. It has been blowing hot and cold. Although it called the resolution illegal, with international pressure mounting, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country was willing to resume negotiations.

Later, however, he declared, “In no way will Iran give up its right to nuclear technology, including the fuel cycle for peaceful purposes, as it is enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).”

For some time now, Iran has been accused of using its nuclear energy program to facilitate the development of nuclear weapons. International pressure is mounting for it to halt its fuel-cycle work, which can be diverted for military purposes.

The U.S. and the European Union want Iran to totally abandon all work related to uranium enrichment, arguing that it cannot be trusted with such sensitive technology. They are offering Iran incentives to give up its program.

Fears are growing that allowing Iran to continue its present course will send a strong signal to North Korea, which dropped out of the NPT in 2003 and now claims to have the bomb.

Iran has not made such a claim, and says it does not need nuclear weapons, but the world is not ready to believe it.

The world has seen two decades of nuclear-related deceit: coverups of experiments to enrich uranium and make plutonium, and lies about nuclear equipment and materials bought on the black market. Libya and North Korea benefited from such clandestine deals. There have also been reports of Pakistan getting nuclear supplies from Libya.

Where then is the guarantee that Iran will not do the same?

Ultimately, diplomacy may not work, and harsher measures might have to be taken to reign in Iran.

A nuclear Iran may not be in India’s interest, and New Delhi also knows that Tehran may not so easily call off the gas project because it needs the money — if for no other reason than to keep its so-called civilian nuclear program going.

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