Iran critical to India’s energy strategy, broader geopolitical interests

TEHRAN, Sep. 06 (MNA) – Indian geostrategist scholar Brahma Chellaney said in an interview that Iran is critical to India’s energy strategy and New Delhi is looking for a waiver from the US sanctions on Iran so as to insulate its energy and political cooperation with Tehran.

The unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal and renewal of economic sanctions has forced many countries to cut oil imports from Iran under the US pressure. While some countries like China, Russia and Turkey have refused to buckle under the US pressure, some countries like India are yet to take the final decision.

The speculation over whether India will continue to buy crude oil from Iran or cut the imports continues. The issue is likely to figure prominently in the first Indo-US 2+2 dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday.

Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist, scholar, author, and commentator.  As a specialist on international strategic issues, he has held appointments at Harvard University, Brookings Institution, Johns Hopkins University, and Australian National University.

In an interview with Tehran Times, Mr. Chellaney said Iran is critical to India’s energy strategy and New Delhi is looking for a waiver from the US sanctions on Iran so as to insulate its energy and political cooperation with Tehran. He says India has not buckled under the US pressure but is pursuing a cautious approach to uphold its interests.

Following are the excerpts:

Following the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal, many countries have felt the pressure to cut oil imports from Iran, including Iran’s close ally India. There has been a lot of speculation over whether India will continue importing oil from Iran or not. Can you tell us what’s happening in New Delhi?

For India, Iran is an important partner. Iran is critical to India’s energy strategy. And it is also critical to India’s broader geopolitical interests extending from Central Asia and Afghanistan to the Middle East. India cannot turn its back on Iran.

India’s Petroleum Minister recently said the Indian government will take a ‘considered and considerate’ view based on ‘national interest’ on the issue of US sanctions against Iranian oil and find a way to secure its energy needs. What do you think is in India’s national interest?

India is the second largest buyer of Iranian crude oil after China. The US, however, is seeking to influence the energy-import policy of India, which currently imports more than three-fourths of its crude oil requirements. According to the International Energy Agency, India is set to emerge as the fastest-growing crude consumer in the world by 2040. Washington is seeking to sell more oil and gas to India and is also encouraging it to switch imports from Iran to Saudi Arabia and other US allies. For India, however, next-door Iran has long been a major oil supplier and will remain so.

India’s continued oil imports from Iran in the wake of US sanctions kicking in from November is likely to figure prominently in the first Indo-US two-plus-two dialogue in New Delhi on Thursday. What should we expect from these talks?

India is looking for a waiver from the US sanctions on Iran so as to insulate its energy and political cooperation with Tehran. The new US sanctions on Iran will figure prominently in the two-plus-two dialogue because those sanctions directly impinge on India’s interests.  

Since the beginning of this fiscal year, the oil purchase from Tehran has surged due to heavy discounts, free shipping and extended credit period for oil sales offered by Iran. Don’t you think cutting oil imports will cost the country savings on shipping and the longest credit repayment period offered by any of its suppliers?

Thanks to the Trump administration’s reckless actions, including withdrawal from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal and imposition of new sanctions against Iran, India’s energy-import bill is increasing. The Trump administration is imposing serious economic costs on India through its misguided policies.

India had initially said they do not recognize unilateral sanctions imposed by Washington, and only recognize UN sanctions. Why did then New Delhi buckle under the US pressure?

I don’t think India has buckled under US pressure. India is pursuing a cautious approach to uphold its interests. It wants the Trump administration to grant it a waiver from the Iran-related sanctions.  

India’s former vice president Hamid Ansari believes Iran is an important country for India, and not just as an oil supplier. “We have to keep in mind two things. We get a good amount of energy supply from Iran. But Iran is not only an energy supplier,” he said. Do you agree?

Yes.

Under Donald Trump, US has antagonized many European countries with hard-nosed policies, announced sanctions against Russia, Turkey, Iran and declaring trade war with China. What’s wrong with the US president’s worldview?

By slapping a nation with punitive sanctions, the US seeks to block trade and financial activities with that country even by other states. Such extraterritorial sanctions — which it euphemistically labels “secondary” sanctions — run counter to international law. Yet the US uses its unmatched power to turn national actions into global measures.

As the world’s reserve currency that greases the wheels of the global financial system, the US dollar arms America with tremendous leverage, making US sanctions the most powerful in the world. Most international transactions, from banking to oil, are conducted in US dollars.

Today, however, the US faces a major test to effectively enforce its new extraterritorial sanctions relating to Iran, which is a Trump obsession, and Russia, which still evokes bipartisan hostility in Washington although Russia’s economy has shrunk to one-tenth the size of China’s and its military spending to one-fifth of China’s. Trump’s sanctions aimed at throttling the Iranian economy have prompted calls for defiance even in Europe.

Speculation is rife that India will convey to the US that it is going ahead with the ambitious Rs. 40,000 crore deal with Russia to procure a consignment of S-400 Triumf air defense missile systems. Do you think it will raise eyebrows in Washington?

Russia is a tried and tested friend of India. Although the US has now become the largest seller of arms to India, Russia remains important to India’s interests. India has made it clear to the US that it will go ahead with the S-400 purchase and other defense deals with Russia.

The new government in Pakistan has extended an olive branch to India. Do you expect the relations between the two countries to improve? How important is it for regional peace?

The latest election has changed little in Pakistan, a country still struggling to be at peace with itself. The Pakistani military will remain the puppet master calling the shots from behind the scenes, with the new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, as its newest puppet. The military didn’t just stack the electoral odds in Khan’s favor; it did practically everything, including rigging, to put him in power.

Interview by: Syed Zafar Mehdi

MNA/TT

News Code 137505

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