NEW YORK: On a crisp bright day in New York, the seeds of a rapprochement between the two sworn rivals were sown quietly, amid cautious hopes that the US and Iran are on the brink of a new spring in their strained relations.
That hoped-for spring or thaw, however, remains a work in progress, with only hints and guesses thrown in about the future of one of the world’s most troubled relations between the two nations.
The leaders of the US and Iran didn’t shake hands or smile much as they spoke at the UN General, but kindled hopes that the two nations may be headed for constructive engagement in days to come.
Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani was a refreshing sight at the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The virulence and anti-American rancour that one had come to expect from his predecessor Mohamed Ahmedinejad was missing from Rouhani’s speech. On the contrary, the reformist-minded Iranian president asserted that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful and signalled that Tehran is ready for “constructive engagement” with the US. “We can arrive at a framework to manage our differences,” he said. “Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass rhetoric have no place in Iran’s defence doctrine.”
President Obama cautiously extended a hand of friendship to the new regime in Tehran. “We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course,” Obama said during his address at the UNGA September 24.
The conciliatory moves by the two leaders have set the stage for a crucial meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the highest-level meeting since the leaders of the two countries met when Jimmy Carter was the US president more than 25 years ago.
Opinion is divided among Beltway Washington pundits and among the international diplomatic community on the future trajectory of a possible US-Iran rapprochement. “The regime’s commitment to negotiations shouldn’t be measured by rhetoric, but by the nuclear activities it ceases,” said Edward Royce, chairman of the US House of Foreign Affairs Committee.
The much-hoped for thaw, if it happens, will create a new dynamic in the Middle East and remove a persistent source of international conflict. The first strategic signals towards reconciliation is good news for countries like India, which has refused to cow down to the US pressure to downgrade its ties with Tehran, but has had to perforce cut down its oil imports in the face of the onerous US and EU sanctions.
In response to the US pressure, India has steadily cut down its oil imports from Iran over the last two years. As a result, Iran, which was India’s second largest supplier of crude oil, has now slipped to the 6th position. Recognising India’s commitment to reduce Iranian oil imports, the US renewed waiver to India in June this year for another six months.
If the reconciliation process goes through, it will me a godsend for the Indian diplomacy which has been delicately juggling its burgeoning strategic ties with Washington and keeping its centuries-old civilisational ties with Tehran on course. Iran has been a source of caviling and serious disagreement between India and the US for many years, and if Washington and Tehran mends their ties and start afresh, this could not only remove a source of friction between Washington and New Delhi, but could have a force-multiplier effect on the Iran-India relations.
In fact, a US-Iran rapprochement would be a vindication of India’s policy of resolving issues through diplomacy and dialogue rather than coercion and sanctions. Although India has voted against the Iranian nuclear programme at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the global nuclear watchdog, India has been relentlessly advocating moderation and diplomacy to resolve the stubbornly persistent Iranian nuclear impasse.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes, www.indiawrites.org, an online magazine and journal focused on international affairs, the India Story, emerging powers and dialogue among cultures.)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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