S Jaishankar to attend Ebrahim Raisi's swearing-in: New Delhi nudges closer to Tehran with eye on neighbours

·5 min read

Reports that external affairs minister S Jaishankar will be attending the swearing-in ceremony of Iran president-elect Ebrahim Raisi on 5 August in Tehran should come as no surprise. After all, for New Delhi, Tehran is a major ally in that region.

Add to that the unfolding situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban fighters have upped the violence and government forces are on their heels, and one can see why this is Jaishankar's second visit to Tehran in less than a month (earlier stopping en route to Moscow and becoming the first dignitary to have met the president-elect).

But leaving aside those basic facts, New Delhi might have another motivation for attempting to sidle up to Tehran: try to thwart any possible inclinations Iran might have to lean towards China and Pakistan. Though it might be a tad more difficult given that China and Iran in March inked a deal reportedly worth an eye-popping $400 billion.

As per reports, China will invest billions in different Iranian sectors including gas and oil, while Tehran is due to ensure regular energy supplies to Beijing for 25 years at a discounted rate.

As the phrase goes, money talks and, well, other things, walk.

'Marked geopolitical shift'

Amin Saikal, adjunct professor of social sciences at the University of Western Australia, said that the deal carries the potential to result in "a marked geopolitical shift" in West Asia and Asia.

"Although Tehran and Beijing have had close trade, economic and strategic ties, a further strengthening of these provides Beijing with a wider entree into a region which so far has not been an arena of intense US-Chinese rivalry," Saikal said.

Moscow-based American political analyst Andrew Korybko, in an opinion piece for The Express Tribune, described the Iran-China deal as a lifeline that would ensure Iran's long-term stability in the face of American sanctions and increased US-led regional military pressure.

What further complicates matters for India is that the US, under President Joe Biden, seems to be in no mood to ease up on the sanctions it imposed on Tehran in the aftermath of unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear deal under the previous Trump administration.

Iran's importance to India

As per The Print, India has repeatedly conveyed its concerns regarding the US sanctions on Iran. And for good reason. Since the imposition of the sanctions, the Bandar Abbas port, which overlooks the Strait of Hormuz, and handles maximum cargo for India, has been closed for Indian business, thus increasing the cost of doing business.

America's sanctions on Iran have left India between a rock and a hard place since 2019 and dulled the sharpness of New Delhi's diplomacy with Tehran.

Since then, two interesting developments have occurred: The Iranian government in July 2020 decided to go it alone in the Chabhar railway project which was being discussed between the Iranian Railways and the State-owned Indian Railways Construction Ltd, and in May 2021 when Iran awarded the contract for the ONGC Videsh Ltd-discovered Farzad-B gas field in the Persian Gulf to a local company.

Meanwhile, China is attempting to draw Iran into the fold.

As The Print piece noted: China's multi-country Eurasian infrastructure projects, under the umbrella of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are now being extended to Iran. This will not only give Beijing a bigger foothold in Iran but also make China an important decision-maker in the region, the piece further stated.

"For India, the perils of dismissing the China-Iran pact as another international agreement may prove to be costly if it is not alert to act prudently and with speed," The Print piece concluded.

'In Pakistan's interests'

The Iran-China deal is also expected to greatly benefit Beijing's 'Iron Brother' Pakistan.

Korybko said that it is in Pakistan's interests not only to see to it that the larger neighbourhood remains stable but also to enhance its regional connectivity with all interested countries.

"Considering the fact that Pakistan hosts the Belt & Road Initiative's (BRI) flagship of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it's only natural that this mega project expands westward into Iran as a result of China's reportedly promised investments there," the political analyst added.

According to Korybko, this deal would advance the regional integration vision that the political analyst previously had termed as W-CPEC+, with the "W" referring to CPEC's western expansion.

The American political analyst further said that it would greatly benefit their relevant interests if their ties with Iran improved: considering the fact that the Islamic Republic provides the best means for bringing together the eastern (Pakistan) and the western (Azerbaijan, Turkey) halves of this group. W-CPEC+ is the best opportunity for the emergence of a broader regional integration network comprising all four countries, he stated.

Asserting that Chinese-Iranian economic ties will continue to be dominated by the energy sphere, Korybko said that their inevitable diversification into other domains will lead to more bilateral trade.

"All of these are poised to combine in mutually beneficial ways that will unleash the power of the Eurasian Century and consequently improve Pakistan's pivotal role within it," Korybko said.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: Afghanistan quagmire: China making moves to secure its interests but do not count out India yet

Outgoing Iran president Hassan Rouhani admits government did not always tell truth during tenure

US secretary of state Antony Blinken to meet Narendra Modi, S Jaishankar during India visit next week

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