0342 GMT May 20, 2018
As the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of India devotes some attention to high-level political engagement with the Middle East, Iran offers one of the greatest strategic possibilities. But in realizing that opportunity, New Delhi will have to negotiate a number of obstacles. The recent visits to Tehran by Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar are part of that effort. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to follow soon.
As Tehran and Washington inch toward a nuclear deal, which will begin to ease nearly four decades of hostility between them, there will be much room for expansive engagement between India and Iran. Although the prospect of a nuclear reconciliation appears so close and tantalizing, we are not there yet. That casts a shadow over Delhi's diplomacy toward Tehran.
As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani noted, a nuclear deal is within reach before the agreed deadline of June 30. But he added a caveat: If the US and its Western partners put 'new issues' on the table, the negotiation could get complicated. Even if an agreement is finalized, it will be a while before it is implemented. Given the complexity of the deal and the entrenched mutual suspicions, the interpretation of the agreement’s terms is likely to become a bone of contention.
Meanwhile, here is the diplomatic problem for India: Tehran wants Delhi to demonstrate the commitment to move forward right away. Delhi, which does not want to break the sanctions regime, tends to be cautious. The trick is to focus on making quick advances in those areas that are not targets of international sanctions and keep a practical roadmap ready for rapid movement on key areas like energy cooperation, as sanctions begin to be lifted.
The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’