India will be watching how US punishes Iran for ‘malign behaviour’
The Trump administration may not dump the Iran deal as the president had promised as a candidate but, in a move India will be tracking closely, it will enforce it more strictly in letter and spirit and hold Tehran accountable for its “malign behaviour”.
The administration was working on a “strategy that will address the totality” of Iran’s actions, which will not be focussed narrowly on the implementation by Tehran of its end of the nuclear deal, a senior Trump administration official said on Monday
The term “malign behaviour/activity” was used for Iran’s purported support of terrorism and proliferation, hostility to Israel, support of the Assad government in Syria and the “arbitrary detention of foreigners” including Americans.
As a result, the official said, the administration believed Iran had undermined the “intent” of the deal, which was to promote peace in the region and outside, and it was “unquestionably in default of the spirit of the” deal.
Though not surprised, New Delhi will be watching closely for signs of the resumption of the sanctions that the Obama administration had deployed against Teheran and which had compelled India to drastically cut its crude oil imports from Iran, a long-time supplier and ally.
More significantly perhaps, New Delhi will be worried about the potential impact of renewed US-Iran hostilities on its plans for co-development of Chabahar port in Iran that is key to India’s push for strategic and trade links into landlocked Afghanistan and beyond into Central Asia.
Under an agreement signed with Tehran in 2016, a year after the Iran deal, India is contracted to develop parts of the port but has faced problems in finding suppliers for the machinery and equipment needed, specially from western manufacturers anxious about impending sanctions from the Trump administration, in line with the president’s poll promises.
For now though, the Trump administration appears prepared to stay with the deal as it gave congress the executive branch’s quarterly certification Monday of Tehran’s adherence of its end of the deal as required by law instead of stating, as it could have, it was rescinding the agreement.
But President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson intend to stress, the senior administration official said, that while Iran had fulfilled conditions of the JCPOA — the Joint Comprehensive Place of Action signed by P-5 countries and Germany and the European Union with Iran in 2015 — it was “unquestionably in default of the spirit” of the deal.
According to the agreement pushed by President Barack Obama, as a legacy defining issue according to critics, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons programme for 15 years in exchange for the lifting of the US-led economic sanctions — in addition to those mandated by the United Nations — that had crippled its economy. But that’s all.
The agreement was opposed by most Republicans, specially hawks who argued the administration had squandered a chance to compel the Iranian government reeling under the debilitating effects of the sanctions to give up its nuclear programme entirely instead of settling on a temporary freeze.
But the Trump administration concluded that the “malign behaviour/actions” of Iran undermined the “intent” of the JCPOA, which was to “contribute to regional and international peace and security”, the official said, And it hadn’t.