Leaked cables and Indian policy in Myanmar, Iran

India’s policy in Myanmar:

1. In a meeting between the Indian and US officials in New Delhi (Cable dated November 2, 2004), an outspoken Indian foreign affairs official told American counterparts in Delhi that democracy leader Aung San Sui Kyi’s “time had come and gone” and that democracy could only be encouraged through “greater engagement” with the ruling regime. India was best placed to do this because the United Nations is no longer credible and the E.U. is too shabby and short-sighted…….

……The Indian official reiterated India’s belief that only constructive engagement of the military regime could bring about any meaningful change, saying sanctions have only isolated Burma, and have not encouraged democratic reforms there. Burma is so isolated that members of Than Shwe’s delegation wondered whether they would have to “go nuclear” to get US attention, she remarked, noting the comparison to Pakistan. She emphasized that if India also isolates Burma, no one will be able to engage Rangoon on democracy or other issues.

2. Another cable, dated April 27, 2007, details meeting between Indian and US officials. MEA Joint Secretary Mohan Kumar, the Indian official, states: India is losing influence — and gas deals — in Burma to China, and suggested that American pressure on India to press the junta on democracy and human rights was counterproductive. The more the U.S. presses India to bring Burma before the UN Security Council, he said, the more the Burmese tell India to “go to hell.”

India-Burma relations have deteriorated to being unidimensional, Kumar said, with the only cooperation being on the anti-insurgency campaign along the border. India is not getting any gas contracts from Burma (“We’re getting screwed on gas” were Kumar’s exact words, reflective of his candid nature), nor is it getting the transit rights it seeks which would open a bridge to East Asia. Burmese officials have told Kumar that they “hate” the Chinese and would prefer not to cooperate with China, but do so because they feel Beijing is more reliable than New Delhi.

Indian policy on Iran:

1. In a cable (dated May 1, 2008) that details meeting between then Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and then US Ambassador to India David Mulford, the former told the US not to tell India who to meet or not to meet. This was regarding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s brief visit to New Delhi………..Menon responded that “there is nothing in this visit that should upset you (the US).” He emphasized that the Indian government had little choice to say yes when the Iranian government requested a stop in transit. Moreover, Menon explained, India and Iran need to talk about Afghanistan and energy issues. “We can talk with him without affecting our other relationships,” Menon contended, and cited the strong India-Israel relationship that withstood India’s flirtation with Iran. Menon also cautioned the U.S. against telling India what to do, especially in public. “This government has to be seen following an independent foreign policy, not responding to dictation from the U.S.,” he stated. He recognized that Iran presents a global problem, and the U.S. and India differ in how to fix the situation because of geography.

The US Ambassador then tried to pressurize India by reminding Menon how the U.S. government and Congress stood up for India by passing the Hyde Act because they believed that as a rising power, India must come into the global nonproliferation system. However, the Ambassador posited, those supporters will wonder if India is ready for prime time since it “let the enemy in and did not stand up and say, ‘don’t do this.'” Menon countered that such a position sounded like what theCommunists have accused the U.S. of doing.

Mulford’s final assessment states: By providing Ahmadinejad with a platform to berate the U.S., the Indian government has attempted to prove that it has an independent foreign policy, as the Communist critics have demanded since India’s first vote against Iran in the IAEA in 2005. By kowtowing to political concerns, India has put at risk its image of an emerging, responsible major player in the world. We have warned the Indian government quietly about the implications, but sharp, public comments from the U.S. government will only push India and Iran closer together.

2. A May 4, 2007 cable mentions how a senior Indian External Affairs official tells a US official about overtures from Tehran towards prominent Indians who were US critics.

Ambassador K.V. Rajan, former Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs and current Chairman of the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), told the US official that he had been invited by the Iranian Embassy for an all expenses paid trip for “politicians, scholars and commentators.” The list of invitees in a fax from the Iranian Embassy press section included notorious America-critics. The visit was scheduled for April 28-May 4, and the Embassy said the guests would meet Iranian officials, scholars and would visit “one or two Iranian nuclear establishment(s).”

The cable further states that “Rajan’s analysis of Iranian intentions to influence PM Singh’s domestic constituencies is deeply worrying and spot-on, and confirms what we have been reporting. Rajan also noted stepped up Iranian funding to sympathetic Shia clerics. The United Progressive Alliance government is deeply interested in appeasing its Muslim and Left Front supporters, and is concerned about the outcome of elections in Uttar Pradesh state, where a large number of Muslim constituents reside. We see evidence that Iran has been buying off journalists, clerics and editors in Shia-populated areas of Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir, doling out large sums to stoke anti-Americanism. Now, it seems Iran is focusing squarely on influential elite audiences in Delhi, with a view to shaping the debate of India’s IAEA policy and the nuclear deal.”

3. Another cable (dated February 25, 2010) gives details of a meeting between Indian National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and US officials. The discussion was centered around regional security and trade. Menon also talks about the Iranian role in Afghanistan and its nuclear program.

Menon agreed with Senator Jeff Merkley’s (D-OR) assertion that a nuclear Iran would be bad for everyone. Merkley had supported the Obama Administration’s efforts to seek dialogue with Iran, but it was now clear the Islamic Republic was not open to dialogue. Menon replied that “the last thing we want is another nuclear power in our neighborhood.” That was why India voted against Iran three times at the IAEA and implemented UN sanctions. Iran was “hopping mad” over India’s IAEA votes and Iranian Foreign Minister Moutakki “blew up” at former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan during his last visit to Delhi. “It goes without saying,” according to Menon, that India would continue to implement any sanctions against Iran approved by the Security Council.

India had a more complex relationship with Iran and was convinced that it could work with Iran on some issues. For instance, Menon asserted that Iran was more worried about the Taliban today than ISAF, which was not the case a year ago. The trouble was that the Iranian elite was divided, so the normal rules of Iranian politics no longer seemed to apply. Under these circumstances, Menon asked, “What effect will sanctions have?” “If you must impose sanctions, we will go along with it,” according to Menon, “but we should be aware that it could end up benefiting the regime.” He said any sanctions should be carefully targeted so they do not end up hurting the people rather than the elite. He concluded that the Iran situation was “very unsatisfactory from our point of view as well,” and that the United States had “a choice among unsatisfactory strategies.”