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Last Updated : May 17, 2019 02:49 PM IST | Source:

Explained | Why are tensions rising between US and Iran? How is India affected?

Experts have argued that India needs to finely balance its approach towards Iran and the US, since a significant amount of Indian interests lie in both countries

Atharva Pandit @AtharvaPandit3

The tensions between Iran and the United States are escalating by the day. Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said the country is facing "unprecedented pressure" from international sanctions, calling it a "war unprecedented in the history of Islamic revolution".

Meanwhile, the US on its part ordered a partial evacuation of its Baghdad embassy in Iraq, Iran's neighbour, on May 14.

The drums of war between the two nations started beating ever since. Experts monitoring the situation have said a potential US-Iran conflict would prove to be catastrophic for the entire region, with countries like Israel also likely to be pulled in.


How did it all start?

The relations between US and Iran have been in troubled waters ever since US President Donald Trump assumed office in 2016.

As a candidate, Trump's campaign included blasting the deal between Iran and six other nations— called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement— to curb Iran's nuclear programme. Trump had called it the "worst deal ever negotiated".

In May 2018, Trump pulled out of the agreement, calling it "decaying and rotten". The tussle between US and Iran has been on ever since.

More recently in April, the US designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (ISGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO). More commonly known as the Revolutionary Guards, it is Iran's elite military force, and Trump stated that this was for the first time that the US had designated a part of a foreign government as an FTO.

Then on April 22, US announced that it would stop extending sanction waiver to nations importing Iranian oil— a move that had direct impact on India. Iran had hit back by signalling that it might start part of its nuclear programme, as also stating that it will close the vital Strait of Hormuz for commercial shipping purposes.

Come May, sabotage on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, and a drone attack on Saudi pipeline were blamed on Iran and its proxies. Reports suggest that as a response to intelligence received regarding Iranian actions against its personnel, the US decided to send its warships and bombers to the region.

Where do things stand now? 

At this point, the US has said it does not want war with Iran "fundamentally". Trump has also said he expects that the pressure exerted on Iran will bring it back to the negotiating table.

Iran, on its part, has been stating that it won't negotiate with the US, but has also made it clear that the country does not want a war.

At the same time, leaders from both sides have claimed that they are ready in case a conflict breaks out.

The New York Times has reported that the US reviewed its military plans against Iran. The plan included sending over 120,000 troops to the Middle East in case the Iranian forces attack US personnel stationed in the region, or start accelerating its work on the nuclear programme.

On the Iranian side, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Salami has said Iran is "on the cusp of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy".

What is the international community saying?

Countries that could directly be affected by a conflict between US and Iran are keeping a wary eye on the developments.

America's European allies have kept their distance, but cautioned that additional US pressure on Iran might lead to Tehran repealing the nuclear agreement.

According to reports, the British, Netherlands and German forces deployed in Iraq and Syria have downplayed the immediate threat from Iran. Germany and Netherlands have, however, suspended training of its soldiers in Iraq due to the "generally heightened" state of alert in the region.

Qatar has also moved to de-escalate tensions between the two countries. Qatar's Foreign Minister met his Iranian counterpart on May 15 to discuss ways to resolve the crisis.

How is India placed in all this?

India was Iran's second largest buyer last year, and Tehran was the third largest supplier of oil to India. After the US announcement of cancellation of sanction waiver, India completely stopped importing oil from Iran.

While India does not rely on Iranian oil, the stopping of import comes at a significant cost: for India, importing oil from Iran was convenient both financially and geographically.

India's overall relationship with Iran can also get affected by the growing tensions, according to observers. For India, Iran provides an access to Central Asia and Europe by bypassing Pakistan.

Experts have argued that India needs to finely balance its approach towards Iran and the US, since a significant amount of Indian interests lie in both countries. With Iran, for instance, India is developing the Chabahar project, which the US has said won't be affected by its refusal to renew sanction waivers.

Officially, India has stated that it would want all parties to continue fulfil their commitments and resolve all issues "peacefully and through dialogue". Moreover, according to an Indian Express report, over 8 million Indian migrants live and work in West Asia, and they could be affected by a potential conflict in the region.

In terms of India's relationship with Washington, with the US pulling strings in the listing of Masood Azhar as global terrorist, experts state that it expects India to reciprocate on Iran.

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First Published on May 17, 2019 02:49 pm
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