Iran’s decision this week to bar International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from visiting the Parchin military base, which Tehran allegedly used to test components needed to create a nuclear weapon, may prove to be a turning point in the diplomatic standoff over the country’s nuclear program. Up to this point, the “rising democracies” -- especially Turkey, India and Brazil -- have been unwilling to support efforts by the United States and Europe to further isolate Iran, in part because they have a much narrower definition of what constitutes a “nuclear weapons capability,” which the U.S. says is an unacceptable red line. They essentially consider such a capability to mean possessing the actual components of a working nuclear weapon, as opposed to possessing the technological capacity to develop them, which is the standard embraced by Western countries.
Non-Western powers have generally been more prepared to accept Iran’s claims that it simply seeks to develop the full panoply of civilian nuclear technology that it is entitled to under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Along with other major powers like China and Russia, the emerging democracies have called for intensified dialogue and had welcomed Iran’s call last week to restart talks “at the earliest opportunity.” However, if Iran continues to obstruct inspectors, and if it does not come to the table with concrete proposals, but instead uses yet another round of talks as a delaying tactic, its isolation could deepen. Moreover, if evidence emerges that the inspectors were barred from Parchin because they were on the verge of finding a “smoking gun” disproving Iran’s consistent claim that it does not seek nuclear weapons, the willingness of the “rest” to contest the allegations of “the West” will be tested.
India, which up to this point has been a strong supporter of Iran’s right to develop a civil nuclear program, is under particular pressure. It is certainly understandable why New Delhi would not want to jeopardize its important relationship with Tehran, going so far as to downplay evidence pointing to Iranian involvement in the recent attack on an Israeli diplomat in the Indian capital. After all, India is now the second-largest purchaser of Iranian oil, and Iran is India’s second-largest supplier. India also eagerly needs Iran’s untapped natural gas reserves to power its economy. Given India’s strained relations with Pakistan, New Delhi’s strategic partnership with Iran gives it a crucial link to India’s allies among Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun populations. Meanwhile, India’s only path, at present, to access the resources of Central Eurasia -- and its only hope of competing with China for this bounty -- runs through Iran. Finally, India is estimated to have the world’s second-largest population of Shiite Muslims.