In a remarkable and somewhat unprecedented rebuke of the US administration, India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has announced that India will not respect unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and will recognize “only the UN sanctions.” Bound to raise tensions with Washington, India’s brave decision reflects both India’s political evolution and the primacy of her own national interests. It’s also another setback for the White House’s hawkish anti-Iran policy, which has already alienated key European allies who are struggling to preserve the Iran nuclear deal without the United States by offering Iran a package of incentives in the near future. Adding real bite to her major policy announcement, Swaraj then went on to meet Iran’s visiting Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is seeking to shore up global sanctions-busting support through a flurry of diplomatic trips.
India’s principled stance of maintaining business as usual with Iran despite American pressure reassures Iran about one of its key energy trade partners. Indeed, India’s imports from Iran have peaked in recent months to over 600,000 barrels per day. China, too, has invited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a bilateral meeting in June ahead of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where Iran as an observer keen on full membership. Moreover, Beijing has signaled its intention to sustain its key energy connections with Iran, which include investment by Chinese firms in Iran’s vast South Pars Field. Together, India and China make up nearly 40 percent of Iran’s oil exports and this might jump even higher in the near future.
Swaraj’s statement has focused attentions on New Delhi and its growing economic and geopolitical ties with Tehran. This was vividly demonstrated in the February 2018 India visit by Rouhani that resulted in a number of new bilateral trade agreements, including on the expansion of the India-built Chah Bahar port, which is also key for Afghanistan’s development.
But there is also a hidden message regarding the role of UN in the present controversies swirling around unilateral U.S. exit from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). Indirectly, Swaraj is sending a message to the UN that it must take action in defense of the JCPOA in conformity with its own stance mandating full compliance with the terms of the agreement not only by the signatories but also the entire UN family of nations.
This article was published by Lobe Log on the 31st of May 2018. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi is a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign affairs, including Iran Nuclear Accord and the Remaking of the Middle East (with Nader Entessar).