BY: ZOE LEUNG AND HARI PRASAD
Though President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal has embittered its European allies, it was welcomed by Iran’s rivals in the Middle East—in particular, U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. U.S. economic sanctions on Iran are expected to go back into full force by November 5. In the meantime, other signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are looking for ways to save the deal. The U.S. decision will have profound consequences for politics in the Middle East and beyond. India—having close relations with both Iran and the United States—is a case in point.
While not a signatory, India welcomed the JCPOA and the lifting of international sanctions against Iran. Iran has remained one of India’s most important partners in the Middle East since an opening of relations in 2013 when both countries formalized their “strategic partnership.” India and Iran share an interest in countering Sunni extremism—especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan—and Tehran is of strategic importance to Delhi’s expanded influence in Asia through joint connectivity projects and countering China-Pakistan ties. Tehran, faced with international pressure and rivalry in its immediate neighborhood, needs as much support as it can get from long-standing partners like India.
By pressuring allies to isolate Tehran, Washington’s actions force Delhi to pick sides between the United States and Iran, further complicating India-Iran ties. Ensnared in competing interests and the impact of renewed sanctions, India must balance protecting its national interests by working with Iran on key issues while, at the same time, downplaying its ties with Iran to placate the United States. These opposing interests impede India’s strategic options—in particular, vis-à-vis China, a rising hegemon in the region, and ultimately, undermines U.S. strategic interest in Asia.
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