GP Insights # 215, 11 January 2020
On 7 January, the Iranian Ambassador, Ali Chegeni called for an Indian mediation between the ongoing US and Iran tensions. It comes immediately after Iran launched ballistic missiles against American military bases in Iraq. He insisted India play an active role in brokering peace between the two rival nations.
What is the background?
Globally, tensions escalated preceding an attack on the American Embassy in Iraq. The Americans alleged the role of Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian backed militia after which the Iranian General Qasem Suleimani was killed in a US missile strike. In the backend, Trump’s scrapping of JCPOA, the policy of maximum pressure and Iran’s recent retreat towards its uranium enrichment program has contributed to the rise in tensions.
Iran’s request comes at a point when India remains one of the few countries to have balanced bilateral relations, both with the US and Iran. Despite its stance against Iran’s nuclear enrichment at the International Atomic Energy Agency in the past, India has been active in upholding ties with Tehran. While India’s energy relations have hit new lows, its trade with Iran increased to $17 Billion in 2019 as compared to $13 billion in 2018.
New Delhi and Tehran’s founding role in the INSTC and Afghan Connectivity through the Chahbahar port has further added meat to the relations between India and Iran.
What does it mean?
First, the failure of JCPOA and the culmination of gaps between the US and Iranian sympathizers in the P5+1 grouping may have pivoted Tehran’s hopes towards India. France, Germany and the United Kingdom’s unsuccessful attempts at narrowing frictions have not yielded much, rather created conflict vacuums.
Second, this is an opportunity to rejig India’s energy diplomacy with Iran, considering the US’s pressure that hampered our oil imports in 2019. It could also help fresh negotiations on India’s engagement in the Farzad-B Gas fields and alter bilateral aspirations on Chahbahar port. India could view this through the prism of strengthening its hold over the Arabian Sea and its reach to Afghanistan.
Finally, while Iran’s expectations should be addressed judiciously, New Delhi must evaluate its potentials and possible ramifications. It becomes apt to quantify India’s Iran-US mediation considering stakes, responsibilities, and dividends. India must tread cautiously keeping in mind global status quos without hurting its geopolitical position.