The presidents of the US and Iran, Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, failed to shake hands in New York but at least their foreign ministers met and that is good news.
Syria may be the bloodiest conflict in West Asia today, but geopolitically it is a subset of the far more dangerous tension existing between Iran and a large array of other countries — the US, Israel and most of the
Persian Gulf monarchies. This divide in the Gulf is what worries the world the most. It is, arguably, the most important geopolitical concern of India today.
If the present tension were to spill over into violence, India’s oil and gas lifeline and one of its largest sources of foreign exchange remittances would be severed.
Superficially, this is about disagreements on Iran’s support for terrorism and its nuclear weapons programme. But underlying this has been Iran’s decade-long attempt to become the leader of the wider Muslim world.
It picked up a fight with Israel to win Arab hearts and minds and maintained a confrontational stance with Saudi Arabia. But the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising have wiped out these gains.
The Hafez al-Assad government is Tehran’s closest Arab ally. But by supporting Mr Assad, Iran has become a hate figure among the Arab world. Its hopes to be a modern caliphate are finished.
Iran has refocussed on domestic stability and preserving what it can of its nuclear capacity. There lies the rub: the line between what Tehran wants to keep on the atomic front and what the US can persuade Israel and Saudi Arabia to accept is the real Persian Gulf. The diplomatic effort to bridge that gap has just begun.
Mr Rouhani is under attack in Iran for being too conciliatory to Israel. Iran’s ultimate boss, Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, supports Mr Rouhani but will sacrifice him if things go awry. Mr Obama is also walking on eggs at home. But, at least, diplomacy has begun.
Until this week, the US and Iran had not even spoken to each other except through third parties. This latest development is and should be a source of relief for India and most of the world.