The back-to-back visits by two senior Indian Cabinet Ministers to Iran within a week are geared towards cementing the India-Iran bilateral ties. India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a stopover visit to Iran last Sunday while returning from Russia where he had gone to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ meeting. In Tehran, Mr. Singh met with his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Amir Hatami and discussed issues of mutual cooperation as well as regional security.
India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar also made a stopover visit to Tehran on his way to Moscow to attend the Foreign Minister’s meeting of SCO. During the stopover, Dr. Jaishankar held a productive meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif. The two sides held discussions on strengthening bilateral cooperation. The two Ministers also reviewed regional developments during the meeting.
It may be noted that Dr. Jaishankar had last visited Tehran in December 2019 to attend the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting; while the Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif had visited India in January this year to attend the ‘Raisina Dialogue 2020’. Notably, this was the Indian External Affairs Minister’s first visit abroad after the restrictions in travels were imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It shows the importance given by both India and Iran, in terms of their bilateral ties especially at a time when the United States has been waging a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, constricting the scope of Tehran’s political and economic cooperation with other countries.
The two visits also came at a time when Iran and China are understood to be finalizing their long-term bilateral cooperation. It has been widely reported that Beijing and Tehran are forging a 25-year bilateral strategic cooperation under the rubric of China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), promising huge amounts of Chinese investments in Iran.
The timing of the visits of two senior Indian Ministers also coincides with the expected intra-Afghan dialogue towards stabilizing Afghanistan. The two Foreign Ministers are understood to have discussed the issue as well; apart from other regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern. Furthermore, these visits happened soon after the failed attempt by the United States to extend the arms embargo on Iran, which is due to expire on October this year.
India and Iran have civilizational relationship which has been intensely nourished in the recent years, fructifying or progressing in the joint infrastructural projects such as Chabahar Port and Chabahar-Zahedan Railway Line projects. India and Iran are also currently involved proactively towards increasing the usage of Chabahar Port. It should be noted that only last month, the Indian Ambassador to Iran was invited by the Deputy Minister and head of Iranian Railways, Saeed Rasouli, for reviewing cooperation between the two countries on the Chabahar-Zahedan Railway Line.
Although the current bilateral trade between Iran and India has been negatively affected because of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States; India and Iran are committed to further deepen their bilateral trade relationship despite the prevalent constraints. For India, Iran remains an important extended neighbourhood outreach country with great potential in terms of bilateral trade and is strategically important for India’s access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. Similarly, India serves as a potential big market for Iranian products and has been traditionally a major destination of Iranian crude.
Due to the present geo-politics of the Middle East and great power rivalries between the United States, Russia and China to have a greater sway in the region, Iran’s relationship with the outside world has got negatively affected. The constraints were further augmented because of the longstanding Covid-19 pandemic that has had a global impact.
The fact that the two senior ministerial visits from New Delhi to Tehran have occurred immediately after the easing of pandemic-related travel restrictions, shows the importance that India attaches to its ties with Iran. It will be instrumental in further deepening India-Iran bilateral ties.
Script: Dr. Asif Shuja, Senior Research Fellow,
The Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.