Rouhani’s re-election won’t boost India-Iran trade ties thanks to US | editorials | Hindustan Times
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Rouhani’s re-election won’t boost India-Iran trade ties thanks to US

While Iran is now free of international sanctions, those imposed by the US remain in place . The Trump administration has so far not taken any steps to walk away from the nuclear deal, but by throwing in its lot so strongly with Saudi Arabia and Israel it has weakened the US’ ability to act as a go-between and ensure regional stability – which is what a strategically minded superpower would want to be

editorials Updated: May 22, 2017 12:26 IST
Woman holds a poster of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign rally in Tehran, May 17, 2017
Woman holds a poster of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign rally in Tehran, May 17, 2017(REUTERS)

The Iranian question continues to keep the geopolitical sands of the Persian Gulf and much of West Asia fluid and unstable. The landslide victory of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in his re-election bid shows that the majority of Iranians continue to wish for a modern society and support Tehran’s attempts to engage with the West and end years of economic isolation. However, Mr Rouhani’s return to power has coincided with a speech by the United States president, Donald Trump, accusing Iran of spreading “destruction and chaos”, “fuelling sectarian fires” and being a source of regional instability. This bodes poorly for the future of Iran’s relations with the US and will make it harder for the Gulf to find a political balance between its Sunnis and Shias.

None of this will be welcome to India’s ears. New Delhi has long characterised its Gulf policy as a set of bilateral relations with a diplomatic goal of trying to ensure these separate threads don’t get tangled. India has been nervous at the spread of sectarian hatred and religious extremism across West Asia. It is in India’s interests that Iran be brought in from the cold. Sanctions were helpful in bringing Tehran to accept the nuclear deal with the West. But sanctions will have the opposite effect on Iran when it comes to its involvement in Syria and Yemen. A policy of engagement makes more sense as Tehran sees its interests there in geopolitical terms. While Iran is now free of international sanctions, those imposed by the US remain in place and remain a major hindrance to India and other countries that wish to trade and invest in Iran.

The Trump administration has so far not taken any steps to walk away from the nuclear deal, but by throwing in its lot so strongly with Saudi Arabia and Israel it has weakened the US’ ability to act as a go-between and ensure regional stability – which is what a strategically-minded superpower would want to be. Iran is not an easy customer. Its record of making fiery and self-defeating threats against Israel, continuing anti-American rhetoric and earlier terror attacks against US targets means it has few friends in Washington.

Even India struggles to win friends and influence people in Iran because in the latter are multiple centres of power. But the re-election of Mr Rouhani and what he represents should be seen as evidence that a large part of that country still hopes to be accepted as a normal member of the global community and, therefore, engaging Iran still remain a viable long-term strategy.