Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s visit to New Delhi, came at a time of escalating conflict between the United States and Iran. It signifies India’s position in the Iranian foreign policy calculus. The Iranian Foreign Minister met India’s Minister for External Affairs and held constructive discussions on all bilateral issues of mutual interest between the two countries. This meeting provided the two leaders to indulge in exchanging views on the evolving regional situation, including the Afghanistan issue.
While India shares civilizational relationship with Iran spanning millennia, the mutual ties of these countries have recently been deeply strengthened due to their partnerships in the realms of energy and connectivity. Iran is prominently placed in India’s energy security domain, standing amongst India’s top oil suppliers for a long time. Even during the current phase of the US sanctions against Iran in which Washington has declined to extend any oil-import waivers to any country; India has decided to continue its oil imports from Iran. India had followed the same approach during the last phase of the US sanctions before the nuclear deal, when it continued to import Iranian crude oil despite stiff restrictions on payment processes. India’s support to Iran during that time is duly acknowledged by Tehran and it is in this context that the current visit of Mr. Zarif should be seen.
India also shares strategic partnership with the United States, with which Iran has strained relations for about four decades since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. In recent years United States has become one of the most important defence procurement sources for India. With the United States, India also shares a multi-dimensional relationship and many Indian entities have huge business interests in the US. Under such a scenario, India’s respective ties with the US and Iran puts India in a crucial position. Looking positively, this positioning of India can also be instrumental in playing some kind of a mediatory role to diffuse the current crisis if New Delhi opts for that.
Although India was not a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) agreed between the Permanent 5+1 (All the 5 permanent UNSC members plus Germany) and Iran, New Delhi had welcomed the nuclear agreement. India considered this nuclear deal as an effective way of diffusing the crisis surrounding the Iranian nuclear controversy. India acknowledged that Iran had consistently abided by the terms of the deal, from which the US opted out unilaterally. Now that Iran too has decided to scale back some of its commitments under the nuclear deal in response to the US’s recent policies, India is placed in a situation where it may have to make new adjustments in its course of action under the unfolding developments.
The unilateral withdrawal by the United States and President Donald Trump’s subsequent stance against Iran including military deployment in the Persian Gulf has created a situation in the region which is of very serious nature.Any miscalculation by either side could escalate this conflict in a manner which could have serious repercussions not just for the region but far beyond. The fact that the Gulf region falls under the purview of India’s extended neighbourhood, such a conflict is not good at all for India.
Under the prevailing scenario, the visit of Iranian Foreign Minister to New Delhi could be seen from the perspectives of Iran’s acknowledgement of India’s support in its trying times as well as Tehran’s efforts of finding out ways and means to continue export of Iranian oil to India under the current phase of the US sanctions. It is also possible that through the visit of Javad Zarif, Iran has been signalling India to play a role which could be instrumental in diffusing the tensions between Iran and the US, the two countries with which India shares friendly relations.
Script: Dr. Asif Shuja, Strategic Affairs Analyst on Iran