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The sixteenth round of Foreign Office Consultations between India and Iran was held in Tehran this week in the backdrop of an extremely worrisome regional scenario caught up in strategic disarray. India’s Foreign Secretary, Vijay Gokhale led the Indian delegation while Iranian side was led by its’ Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Seyyed Abbas Araghchi. Mr. Gokhale also held discussions with Dr. Javad Zarif, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Dr. Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior Advisor to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
Both sides re-assessed the entire gamut of bilateral cooperation including ongoing connectivity and infrastructure development projects like development of Shahid Behesthi Port, Chabahar and full operationalization of the Trilateral Transit Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan. In addition, regional issues were also discussed. The two sides expressed their commitment to maintain the momentum of mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation and exchanges between the two countries. It was decided that the next round of Joint Commission Meeting at the level of Foreign Minister would be held at an early date in Iran.
The Foreign Office Consultations need to be analysed in the context of India’s decision to stop importing oil from Iran since May 2019 after Washington refused to extend the six months waiver. Iranian Ambassador to India, Ali Chegeni noted while Turkey, Russia and China continued their energy ties with Iran, India decided otherwise. It is important to note that while India did stop importing oil temporarily from Iran, it continued its engagement with Tehran in other areas. In fact India’s strategic relations with Iran go beyond the oil trade.
The two countries are continuing their engagement and consultation on Afghanistan. India is also exploring ways to enhance the economic and trade ties with Iran. During the recent India-Russia Summit both New Delhi and Moscow have agreed to continue their trade and economic cooperation with Iran termed as “mutually beneficial and legitimate”. India is also committed to taking forward cooperation during 7th meeting of the International North South Transit Corridor’s (INSTC) coordination council meeting held in March 2019.
Escalating tensions between Iran and the United States since May this year have definitely exposed once again India and Iran to a new set of challenges; India is exploring ways to see how best the energy ties with Iran can be restored through other means. Iran was until 2006 India’s second-largest supplier of crude oil. But it dropped to number seven by the end of 2013-14. However, India continued to be Iran’s second-largest buyer, next only to China until India stopped importing oil from Iran in May. Iran’s importance as a stable supplier of energy can’t be ignored.
Significantly, Iran’s regional importance for India as gateway to Eurasia, its growing role and leverage in West Asia and Afghanistan necessitate the urgency on part of New Delhi to enhance its engagement with Iran. India needs Iran both for its connectivity projects INSTC and Chabahar, support and engagement in Afghanistan and its cooperation to maintain balanced ties with China, Russia, Central Asian Republics and other regional actors. Geo-politically the realignment of regional players like Iran–China-Russia; Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan-China and Russia demand India’s continued engagement with Iran.
A new chapter of cooperation was initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Iran visit in May 2016 when the leadership of both countries agreed to develop an all-out comprehensive strategic economic cooperation with focus on infrastructure development, trade, economic and energy cooperation and cementing the politico-strategic dimension of Indo-Iranian relations. This got further impetus during President Hassan Rouhani’s three-day visit to India in February 2018 and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visit to India in January this year.
Script: Dr. Meena Singh Roy, Strategic Analyst on Russia, CIS & West Asia