India tries to keep a Gulf in flux at peace | india | Hindustan Times
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India tries to keep a Gulf in flux at peace

india Updated: Nov 26, 2013 01:47 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent an hour with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the nonaligned summit in Tehran last year. The national security teams of both countries held an even longer session afterwards.

India’s message: economic sanctions and the threat of military strikes were endangering the revolution. At some point, New Delhi said, Khamenei needed to talk directly to President Barack Obama about Iran’s nuclear programme.

It was a message repeated when every Iranian official close to the supreme leader came visiting. Khamenei’s circle didn’t disagree. But they said this had to wait until the mad hatter president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, was removed.

When Obama administration accepted the offer of talks by the newly-elected president, Hassan Rouhani, it was a vindication of the patient diplomacy of India and other go-betweens like Oman.

The nuclear agreement between Iran and the group of nations led by the US freezes the Iranian nuclear programme.

The idea was to give diplomacy a chance to square a circle: Iran’s desire to preserve its nuclear capacities and Israel’s determination to roll back the programme.

New Delhi has warmly applauded the deal, even though it knows the agreement is an interim solution. The stakes for India could not be greater.

India views Iran’s nuclear programme as illicit, but accepts it as an inevitable consequence of Tehran’s international isolation, Iran’s bloody war with Iraq and broader Persian aspirations to be the Gulf’s pre-eminent power.

The problem is that nuclear arms turns the geopolitics of the Gulf upside-down. It would undermine the balance of power between the Sunni Arab monarchies and Shia Iran, artificially held up by US power.

An overtly nuclear Iran would trigger India’s worst security nightmare. This could mean a Saudi-Pakistan strategic alliance built around Riyadh’s need for Pakistan’s nuclear warheads. The mix of billions of petrodollars financing tens of thousands of jihadis would mean a super-sized Pakistan problem. “The only question is whether the Saudis would import the missiles or keep them in Pakistan but keep the buttons,” said a senior Indian official.

On the other hand, the Israeli option of military strikes on Iran’s nuclear programme would trigger India’s worst economic nightmare. Washington has wargamed 60 different scenarios for such a strike: each one ended with the US in an all-out war with Iran.

In the best case, oil and gas supplies from the Gulf are disrupted and Brent spikes to $300 plus. In the worst case, the Straits of Hormuz are blocked, oil and gas infrastructure in every Gulf state is in flames and the world simply runs out of oil and gas. In the first case, the Indian economy would be flattened. In the second, with its transport, farming and factory sector grinding to a halt, the country would be back to candles and localised famine.

Delhi’s goal is an Iranian nuclear deal that does not trigger off either of these two extremes. Unfortunately, India has limited influence on the players involved.

Ultimately, say Indian officials, the problem is that Gulf is undergoing wrenching geopolitical change.

Iran briefs India over nuke deal

New Delhi: A day after the historic deal, visiting Iran’s deputy foreign minister Ebrahim Rahimpour held a meeting with Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh.

The minister had provided a detailed briefing to Singh about the scenario in the region in the wake of the new accord.

They also discussed various possibilities of furthering bilateral economic cooperation, particularly the Chabahar port. Rahimpour also called on the external affairs minister Salman Khurshid.