Intense pressure from United States did not prompt India to support a resolution that placed Iran on the verge of referral to the United Nations Security Council, according to Ronan Sen, India's ambassador to the US.
In fact, he said, it almost had the opposite effect.
India ended up voting on September 24 in favour of the US-supported resolution by the UN atomic watchdog agency that ordered Iran to suspend its nuclear programs.
But in an interview with The Associated Press, the ambassador said India's concern that it might appear to be buckling under US pressure was "a huge stumbling block in making the decision, which would have happened anyway."
India & Iran: 'Look beyond energy needs'
Top US officials had repeatedly urged India to support referring Iran to the Security Council, the United Nations' top decision-making body.
Denouncing what he considered reluctance on India's part in the weeks leading up to the vote, Rep Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said India could not expect the Congress to support a deal extending US civilian nuclear cooperation if India "totally disregards our interests" on the Iran resolution.
Sen, however, said US pressure actually made it harder for India to go through with a vote it had always intended to cast.
"The decision that we took was not because of what was said, at congressional hearings or elsewhere - it was in spite of that," Sen said, adding, "No government can be seen to be acting under pressure. I think we did the right thing, but it
becomes much more difficult if it is seen to be carried out under duress."
Iran vote: In the national interest?
He said India's vote was consistent with its past statements in favour of keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran.
After officials agreed to delay referring Iran to the Security Council, India embraced the UN resolution, he added.
Still, Sen was adamant when asked if US pressure made India consider withholding its support, answering "absolutely."
"You do not take even your closest friends for granted," he said, adding, "We do not have a Pavlovian response: If some country does this, then we do that."
Sen also defended India's nuclear record and its strong need for energy. To become the great economic power that many expect it to be eventually, Sen said India must have enough energy to create employment for its huge population and to support a coming "demographic bulge."
Gas from Iran may cost India dear
"Energy is the key, the biggest restraint on our development," he said, adding, "For sustaining development, we have to have some alternatives which are immediately available, and which are proven and which we are good at."
Another salve to India's energy shortage is natural gas, of which Iran is a major producer. India is pursuing a deal that would send Iranian gas, by way of a pipeline through Pakistan, to India.
"As far as we are concerned, the pipeline is a completely different issue," he said, when asked if India's UN vote on Iran jeopardized a possible deal. "Differences on certain issues should not hold the entire relationship hostage," he added.
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