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Editorial Articles

Volume-51, 17-29 March, 2018


Future Vision of India and Iran for the New India

Dr Sasikalapushpa and
Dr B. Ramaswamy

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's arrival in New Delhi represented a continuation of India's robust outreach to West Asia, and interestingly comes on the heels of the Modi government's much-celebrated engagement with one of Iran's biggest enemies in the region, Israel.

In fact, Rouhani's trip comes at a time when Israel has marked the presence and advances of Tehran-backed Shiite militias on its borders with Syria and commenced a military campaign against them. Last week, Syrian SAM systems shot down an Israeli F-16 conducting a strike against these Shiite militias. Analysts have highlighted this front as one of the region's most dangerous fault lines. Yet India's relations with Iran have remained generally stable in recent years, notwithstanding hiccups during the period of peak sanctions against Tehran by the U.S. administration of Barack Obama and the current narrative created by President Donald Trump's ad-hoc foreign policy.
During the visit of Rouhani, wide-ranging and constructive discussions on bilateral, regional and multilateral issues were held in a cordial atmosphere. In recalling the principles on development of bilateral relations articulated in the 'New Delhi Declaration' of 23 January 2003, the two sides expressed satisfaction at the progress made in bilateral ties since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Iran in May 2016 and reiterated their common resolve to further intensify and strengthen multifaceted bilateral cooperation.
The two leaders noted that the mutually beneficial ties between the two countries were based upon the strong foundations of the two millenia old cultural and civilisational connect. They shared the view that strengthened bilateral relations also contribute to regional cooperation, peace, prosperity and stability.
Prime Minister Modi and President Rouhani witnessed the exchange of the following documents and jointly addressed the media
1. Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income
2. MoU on Exemption from Visa requirement for holders of Diplomatic Passports
3. Instrument of Ratification of Extradition Treaty
4. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Traditional Systems of Medicine
5.MoU on the establishment of an Expert Group on Trade Remedy Measures to promote cooperation in areas of mutual interest
6. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Agriculture and Allied Sectors
7. MoU on Cooperation in the field of Health and Medicine
8. MoU on Postal Cooperation
9. Lease Contract for Shahid Beheshti Port-Phase 1 of Chabahar during Interim Period between Port and Maritime Organization (PMO), Iran and India Ports Global Limited (IPGL)
Bilateral Exchanges:
President Rouhani and Prime Minister Modi agreed to further intensify and diversify the existing high-level engagement through frequent and wider range of bilateral exchanges at all levels. In this context, it was decided to convene within this year the meeting of the India-Iran Joint Commission and all its Working Groups, Foreign Office Consultations, dialogue between defence and National Security Council structures of the two countries, Policy Planning dialogue, and to promote Parliamentary exchanges.
The two sides recognized the unique role of Iran and India in promoting multi-modal connectivity within and across the region. The successful inauguration of the Phase-1 of Chabahar Port in early December 2017; the ratification of the Trilateral Agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on Establishment of International Transport and Transit Corridor by all sides; and the successful shipment of wheat assistance from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar Port have opened a new gateway to and from Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond.
Both sides reiterated their commitment for early and full operationalisation of ShahidBeheshti Port at Chabahar. The Iranian side welcomed the investment of Indian side in setting up plants in sectors such as fertilizers, petrochemicals and metallurgy in Chabahar FTZ on terms mutually beneficial to the concerned parties.
In this context, both leaders welcomed the lease contract for Shahid Beheshti Port of Chabahar during interim period between Port and Maritime Organization (PMO), Iran and India Ports Global Limited (IPGL). They further directed that the Coordination Council should meet within the timelines stipulated in the Trilateral Agreement. The two leaders released a joint postage stamp depicting Deendayal Port, Kandla and ShahidBeheshti Terminal, Chabahar that reflected the enhanced prosperity through greater connectivity.
Chabahar- Zahedan Rail line: With a view to fully utilize the potential of the Chabahar Port and its connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia, India conveyed its readiness to support the development of Chabahar- Zahedan Rail line. IRCON, India and CDTIC, Iran who are engaged in discussions, were tasked to finalise the technical parameters and financing options for the project in a time bound manner. Both leaders encouraged greater efforts for cooperation in railway sector including supply of steel rails, turnouts and locomotives.
INSTC and Chabahar: Both sides reiterated their commitment to International North- South Transport Corridor (INSTC) and stressed on the need for inclusion of Chabahar within its framework. It was noted that Iran will hold an early meeting of the INSTC Coordination Meeting in Tehran. India's accession to TIR Convention and Ashgabat Agreement was welcomed as additional steps at enhancing regional connectivity and linking regional centers of economic growth.
Chabahar and Indian investment: The Iranian side expressed its readiness to enhance enabling environment to attract Indian private/public sector investments, in Chabahar FTZ. In this context, Iran will organise a business promotion event, with participation of countries from the region and beyond, with the objective of showcasing the economic opportunities offered by the Chabahar Port.
Energy Partnership:
Noting the complimentarity of interests and natural partnership in the energy sector, it was agreed to move beyond traditional buyer-seller relationship and develop it into a long term strategic partnership, both sides agreed to continue and increase the pace of negotiation for reaching appropriate results on energy cooperation, including Farzad B gas field.
Trade and Investment Cooperation:
The two leaders agreed on the deepening trade and investment cooperation between the two countries. In this context, they recognised the need to put in place an effective banking channel for business transactions. It was noted that permission for the Iranian Pasargadbank to open a branch in India was under advance consideration. It was also agreed to set up a Joint Committee of officials to examine feasible options, including Rupee-Rial Arrangement, Asian Clearing Union mechanism to establish functional payment channels.
The finalisation of the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement was welcomed as a step that would promote business environment. The two sides agreed to undertake text based negotiations on Preferential Trade Agreement as well as conclusion of Bilateral Investment Treaty in a fixed time frame.
Noting the importance of the role of businessmen and industry in promoting economic and commercial cooperation, the two leaders welcomed the opening of the Confederation of the Indian Industry (CII) regional office in Tehran last year and the agreements for mutual cooperation signed between various trade bodies on both sides. The Indian side conveyed that it looks forward to Iran Chamber of Commerce & Industry opening an office in India.
World Trade Organisation:
India fully supports the accession of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the World Trade Organization and the ongoing consensus building efforts among WTO members to reactivate the accession process, consistent with the objective of making the Organization universal and inclusive.
Promotion of Friendly exchanges and people to people contacts:
                In order to facilitate friendly exchanges between the two countries, it was agreed that India would grant e-visa facility for the Iranian nationals and Iran would grant e-visa facility to the Indian nationals. The signing of visa waiver agreement for holders of diplomatic passports was also a step in this direction. Both sides reiterated the importance of addressing humanitarian issues concerning the nationals of the two countries. Iran side will positively consider India's request to upgrade Consulates in Iran.
With a view to build on the strong foundations of civilization and cultural connect and promote better understanding of each other at various levels, it was agreed to hold the Festival of India in Iran in 2018/19; establish a Chair of Indian studies in Tehran University; organise Indology courses for Iranian diplomats by the Foreign Service Institute of India; support the Persian language courses in India; cooperate further in the areas of archaeology, museums, archives and libraries.
Security and Defence Cooperation:
The two Leaders welcomed the growing interaction between their National Security Councils and agreed to enhance regular and institutionalized consultations between them and others concerned on terrorism, security and related issues such as organised crime, money-laundering, drug trafficking and cyber crime.
Both sides expressed interest in enhancing cooperation possibilities in maritime domain. It was agreed to hold dialogue to look into measures for cooperation in defence sphere, including port calls by naval ships, training and regular exchanges of defence delegations.
The two sides positively noted the progress achieved in implementation of the bilateral agreement on transfer of sentenced persons; the Extradition Treaty by both sides and understanding reached on Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty on Civil and Commercial Matters.
Other Areas:
They also welcomed bilateral cooperation as per mutual interest and agreement in a number of other areas, including higher education, science and technology, agriculture, labour and entrepreneurship, tourism, posts through regular interaction and institutional mechanisms, and directed relevant authorities to work out further details.
Regional and International Issues:
The two Leaders exchanged views on regional and international situation. In view of strengthening multilateralism, President Rouhani acknowledges the aspiration of India to play a greater role in international fora. The two leaders reiterated the importance of strong United Nations and emphasized the need for an early reform of the Security Council reflective of the current geopolitical realities. They reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the Intergovernmental Negotiations [IGN] for comprehensive reform of the Security Council. Both Leaders underscored the need for strengthening and reform of multilateral financial institutions and enhancing the voice and participation of developing countries in international economic decision-making.
Recognizing the challenges of terrorism and ideologies of violent extremism, the two Leaders reiterated their strong commitment to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism.
They urged an immediate end to all support and sanctuaries enjoyed by terrorist groups and individuals and were of the view that States that aid, abet and directly or indirectly support terrorism should be condemned. They called on the international community to end selective or partial approaches to combating terrorism and, in this regard, stressed the need to make every effort to reach an agreement on and conclude a comprehensive convention on international terrorism at the UNGA. Both sides endorsed UNGA consensual resolution in 2013 derived from the idea of Iran's President "World Against Violence and Extremism" (WAVE) and called for combating terrorist elements and complete eradication of their supportive movements, financial support cut to terrorist groups in particular.
Joint Comprehensive plan of Action:
The Indian side reaffirmed its support for full and effective implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has been endorsed by the UN Security Council and is crucial contribution to the non-proliferation framework and international peace, stability and security.
Both sides stressed that the interests of peace and stability in the region are best served by a strong, united, prosperous, pluralisitic, democratic and independent Afghanistan while supporting the National Unity Government in the country. They stressed the significance of strengthening India-Iran-Afghanistan trilateral consultations and coordination, including by suitably supplementing their cooperation on Chabahar. In this context, they also called upon the countries of the region to come forward for enhancing regional connectivity and take steps to do away with the obstacles on land transit.
Previous agreements:
Air services: New Delhi has signed an air services agreement with Iran enhancing the number of flights between the two nations and allowing each other's airlines to operate to additional destinations.
Bilateral trade: The two sides have also inked a memorandum of understanding that is aimed at increasing bilateral trade to $30 billion from $15 billion.
Maritime cooperation: Plans are afoot for greater maritime cooperation, and Iran has already joined the Indian Navy's annual initiative, the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, which provides a forum for the navies of the Indian Ocean littoral states to engage with each other.
Afghanistan: More significantly, the two nations have decided to hold "structured and regular consultations" on Afghanistan. Both India and Iran are unlikely to accept an Afghanistan that serves as a springboard for the Pakistan military's interests.
Challenges are more than opportunities:
Kulbhushan Jadhav:
While India has used its presence in Iran well to operate trade into Afghanistan, giving Kabul a much needed alternative to Pakistan and bolstering India's position in that war-torn country, today there are more problems between Iran and India than just troubled agreements. For example, the issue of alleged Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav currently on death row in Pakistan being kidnapped from Iran is not just an India-Pakistan matter.
Revelations of Iranian access to AlQaeda and giving home to Osama Bin Laden's family after he was killed in the Abbottabad raid in Pakistan raises some uncomfortable questions for Iran in the global narrative on terrorism. For India, it is imperative that it does not constantly approach Iran in the context of its own issues with Pakistan. While the Afghanistan angle has worked for India, Iran is a geographical neighbor of Pakistan, and will have a completely different approach to its relations with Islamabad.
The challenges for India and Iran are not just economic, but political as well. In June last year, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei brought up the issue of Kashmir for the first time in seven years in an address on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr, including Kashmir is along with Muslims in Yemen and Bahrain as among those being oppressed by tyranny. The reasons behind the timing of this event could be many, from India's growing closeness with both Israel and Saudi Arabia to the Ayatollah offering a narrative for a domestic audience.
China and Iran:
China is now Iran's largest trading partner. China has invested massively in Iran, with more than 100 Chinese companies on the ground seeking to occupy the space vacated by Western firms that had grown skittish about international pressure on the country. The partnership with China benefits both sides: Iran evades global isolation by courting China, which in turn gains access without any real competition to Iran's energy resources.
Diplomacy with Iran itself is an art of its own. Much of Tehran's approach to international diplomacy is based on survivability. Sanctions, economic blockades, covert wars, and a race for regional supremacy more often makes Iran a difficult partner, civilizational ties or not. Still, it is in India's interest to support Rouhani's governance in Iran. His moderate credentials and democratic approach to the limits of what is possible within Iranian political systems is important to both regional and global stability.
Rouhani's New Delhi visit, despite all the baggage, is a good opportunity for both countries to iron out their differences, make significant strides on long-pending economic topics, and discuss the regional dynamics of a destabilized West Asia. This visit should focus on deliverables, an aspect of India-Iran ties that has lost momentum amid much small talk masquerading as deepening relations between the two states.
Dr. Sasikalapushpa is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) & She has also Co- authored four books with Dr. Ramaswamy.
Dr. B. Ramaswamy is Member in Divisional Railway Users' Consultative Committee (DRUCC) on Railways of Chennai (TN) Division. Govt of India.  Email: sasikalapushpamprs@gmail.com