India can help preserve nuclear deal

Interview/ Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi, deputy chief of mission, embassy of Iran

IRAN-ECONOMY Building ties: A ship bearing various flags at the Iranian port city of Chabahar. India had extended a $150 million line of credit to Iran for procuring equipment | AFP

WITH THE US HAVING imposed its first set of sanctions on Iran, and the second just two months away, it is not going to be easy for India, which has interests with both the US and Iran, especially when the first phase of the Chabahar project is nearly done. Iran's deputy chief of mission Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi, in an interaction with THE WEEK, spoke on why the US is not a reliable partner and how India can help counter American pressure. Excerpts from the conversation:

Was Iran caught by surprise when President Donald Trump decided to walk out of the Iran nuclear treaty and impose sanctions?

Iran has never witnessed honesty from the United States. Iran gave NATO forces access to Afghanistan to fight Al Qaeda. Iran also arrested several Al Qaeda operatives.... Yet, President George Bush declared Iran a rogue state.

During the eight-year Iraq-Iran war, the US clearly sided with Saddam Hussain. In spite of sending, undeclared, US National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane to Tehran with a cake and gifts as a goodwill gesture to start negotiation, they supported Iraq with military equipment and intelligence reports.

Is Iran looking at dialogue with the US over the sanctions?

Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi Massoud Rezvanian Rahaghi

Because of our experience, there is resistance in Iran to start a new dialogue now. The nuclear deal was the result of a two-year dialogue between Iran and several countries. As President Hassan Rouhani says, if the US wishes to have a genuine dialogue with us, why have they destroyed the bridge?

Looking at the history of the US negotiations with other countries could also teach us a lot. The US has reneged on many multilateral agreements, too, like the UNESCO and UN Human Rights Council. It also walked away from the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Where does the Iran nuclear deal stand at this stage?

Withdrawal of one member from a multilateral pact, which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council, will not abrogate the treaty. We still feel this treaty will stand as long as other partners—European Union, Russia and China—abide by their commitments. Even nations which were not part of the dialogue on this treaty, like India, can significantly help in preserving this deal.

What are your expectations from India?

India, together with other countries, can change the world to be more peaceful and make a new world order, based on mutual respect, cooperation and non-interference, where there is no hegemony of one specific country. Today's India is different from the one 25 years ago. It is becoming a big power, so it has bigger responsibilities and everybody expects more from India.

There are some good grounds which India could focus on, including peace in Afghanistan as a shared objective.... India could also play an important role to fight against unilateralism and to maintain and promote our regional peace through multilateral fora and regional groupings.

Why do you think the US walked away from the nuclear deal?

The US is following its own interests. History teaches us that the US usually remains untouched by most events happening around the world. During WWII, while Europe was facing a devastating war, the US economy was unaffected and thus it emerged as a super power. But, in our region, we are interdependent. For instance, 80 per cent of India's energy requirement is met through imports, so any instability in the region affects countries like India and China. The US is trying to increase the price of oil through artificial political tensions, to make the alternative of shale [that it produces] viable. Obviously, the major markets for this would be India, China and Europe, so the US feels the need to create more tension in the region.

India's interests, however, can only be secured by reducing tensions and working with regional partners like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman to set up a security arrangement.

During the earlier sanctions on Iran, we had the rupee-rial arrangement to bypass trade in dollars, but it was not very successful. What about this time?

At this stage, it is premature to say what alternative arrangements can be worked out to secure continuation of bilateral trade. During the previous US sanctions, the rupee-rial arrangement worked almost well, but this arrangement requires updates and amendments to adapt to present requirements. I am confident that we will have a reliable mechanism of payment, either a rupee-rial mechanism or some other, to facilitate emerging trade between the two countries.

What are the facets of this emerging trade?

The economies of the two countries are interdependent and complement each other. India looks to Iran for oil and energy resources, which we offer to India with special concessions and flexibility.

India also looks towards the significant role Iran has in preserving regional security and access to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Chabahar Port, which has an annual capacity of eight million tonnes at present. This was the main reason for India to extend a $150 million line of credit to Iran for procuring equipment and necessary investment in Chabahar Port.

What is the present position of Chabahar Port? Wouldn't inviting China to invest in the free economic zone be detrimental to India's interests?

We are delighted that part of the credit line from India has been absorbed. But, there are still some technical issues such as bank guarantees that have to be resolved. Initially, it was agreed that by June 2018, phase one of Chabahar would be handed over to IPGL [Indraprastha Gas Limited]. We expect to hand over operations to IGPL as soon as these issues are resolved.

Chabahar, however, is not just a port project. The development plan encompasses transiting routes connected to that port, including railways, setting up storage tanks and silos, as well as expansion of the free economic zone, which includes many industrial and gas-based projects. We are inviting many countries to invest. We have considered India a priority and given a special status to it. Inviting China and others will not put any limits on India's role in such huge projects.