Iran or the US? India caught in a diplomatic dilemma | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 24.08.2012
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Iran or the US? India caught in a diplomatic dilemma

International Relations experts say that India has a difficult task at hand to maintain friendly ties with Iran without offending the United States, which has put various sanctions on the Iranian regime.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as referring to Indo-Iranian relations as a "relationship among brothers" after a telephone call with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the beginning of the year.

Traditionally, India and Iran have had very close ties. Nonetheless, the last state visit made by an Indian prime minster was over a decade ago - in 2001 Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Iran.

"India is caught in a diplomatic dilemma," Iran expert Qamar Agha told DW. The closer India and the US got - especially after the signing of the Indo-American nuclear deal in 2008 - the stronger the pressure became on India to distance itself from Iran.

"But India has always said that its national interests go before all else. And for the country's rapidly growing economy, India needs energy and oil."

Between Iran and the West

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna

Experts say India has considerably distanced itself from Iran over the years

On the other hand, India wanted to show that as the world's largest democracy and upcoming superpower it was now on the same playing field as other world powers and was a reliable partner, Agha added.

"India has significantly reduced its oil imports from Iran in the past few years - something that the US and other Western powers recognize." To add to that, India had also voted within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) against Iran - in 2005 and 2009.

The South Asian nuclear power has continued to emphasize that it did not fundamentally reject the Iranian nuclear program. But because Iran, contrary to India, had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it had to stick to it. Political scientist Reza Taghizadeh of the University of Glasgow told DW, India had a double advantage through the Non-Aligned Movement.

"It gives India the opportunity to strengthen its friendly relations with Iran. At the same time, it can also convey to Iran the sentiment of the international community that Tehran should show more willingness to compromise."

Not only about oil

Map showing South Asian and Central Asian countries

Several energy projects involving Central Asian states, Iran and India are in the pipeline

Currently, India gets about 10 percent of its oil from Iran, making Iran India's second largest trading partner for oil after Saudi Arabia. Reza Taghizadeh was of the opinion that Iran needed India just as much as India needed Iran.

"India does not really have too many worries at the moment. Saudi Arabia or Iraq would be able to and be more than happy to fill the hole that would arise should India turn away from Iran. But India doesn't want to put all of its eggs in one basket anyway."

Taghizadeh added that it was important for India to find a good balance between closeness and distance to Iran.

But for India, it is not only about securing energy supplies. Qamar Agha pointed out that geopolitical motivations also played a role; Good relations with Iran were also important because they built a bridge to Central Asia for India and its trade interests.

"The strong alliance between Turkey, Iran and Pakistan during the Cold War was a bitter pill for India. That was a difficult time for India." Today, in contrast, New Delhi's rival was China - a country whose growing regional influence, especially in Afghanistan and Iran, competed with India.

New times fort he Non-Aligned Movement

As political heavyweights, India and China were both founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. The movement represented states that belonged to neither military bloc during the Cold War and which remained neutral in the East-West conflict. Today, over 116 states, making up 55 percent of the world population, are members in the movement, excluding China, which quit the movement. Starting with the summit in Tehran, Iran will chair the organization for the next three years.

"Since the end of the East-West conflict, the organization's function has gone from a political to an economic one," said Agha, adding that that went along with India's interest in having its relations with Iran more of economic rather than political nature. But India will eventually India might have to take sides.

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