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Iran-India Relations Before and After the U.S. Withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal and the Consequent Sanctions

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The Geopolitics of Iran

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Iran-India relations ancient as they may be, their focus and scope are much more defined by contemporary interests, strategic perceptions, and a regional/global balance of power than historical or cultural connections. Consequently, bilateral relations fit into a wide-ranging regional as well as a global context, their complexity connecting and complementing the three levels of analysis. Present day bilateral relations per se are usually symbolized with energy (Iran’s oil and gas wealth vs India’s energy demand). The regional context is in fact a complex of their direct and/or their overlapping neighborhoods (the Persian Gulf, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, China) as well as Asia or even Eurasia (connectivity)—all presenting converging and/or overlapping interests and threat perceptions at the same time. While on the multilateral/global level the—in itself very complex—nuclear issue stands out (the dual-use nature of nuclear energy, nuclear non-proliferation, India’s military nuclear capability, Iran’s nuclear program). The following chapter will analyze Iran-India relations on these levels and over these main topics.

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  1. 1.

    “A status report filed by the Ministry of External Affairs in the Supreme Court said there were 6,000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran. They included 1100 pilgrims mainly from the Union Territories of Ladakh and Jammu and Kashmir and the State of Maharashtra, 300 students primarily from J&K, and over 1000 fishermen from Tamil Nadu (744), Kerala (70) and Gujarat (215)” (The Hindu, 2020).

  2. 2.

    Calculated on the basis of the figures in the CIA World Factbook since in the Indian census there is no question related to “sects.” The PEW Research Center provided similar figures in its study in 2009: 10–15% of the Muslims in India are Shia, making up approx. 9–14% of the global Shia community (Pew, 2009).

  3. 3.

    The Shia population has taken part in the struggles for the independence of Kashmir ever since the 1930s, in many cases together with the Sunni Muslims. However, due to sectarian violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan “their involvement in the armed rebellion was reduced to almost nil by the early 2000s” (Al-Jazeera, 2020).

  4. 4.

    “The Indians are emerging from their non-aligned status and becoming a global power, and they have to begin to think about their responsibilities. They have to make a basic choice” (Rajghatta, 2005).

  5. 5.

    Ayatollah Khomeini and General Zia ul-Haq didn’t get along; Pakistan introduced laws that were seen as anti-Shia and apparently Khomeini eventually pressured Zia to exempt Shias from paying zakat. Also, the Shi’a were the prime target of rising Sunni militancy in PK (some of them were supported by the state).

  6. 6.

    Its main source of gas import is Qatar (approx. 50%).

  7. 7.

    The undersea pipeline is a later initiative of a private company—SAGE (South Asian Gas Enterprise). This provides for an undersea pipeline carrying Iranian gas from a point in Oman to the Indian coast at Kutch. (The Iranian gas would reach Oman through an undersea pipeline across the Gulf.) Though this proposal is still mentioned on the seminar circuit by its promoters, it has not been seen as viable and has never had serious government attention. The view in Delhi is to get Iranian gas to India as LNG, either from Iran itself or Oman … after the sanctions have been relaxed.

  8. 8.

    The 2,700 km long Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (IPI) had been on the table since the mid-1990s and was remarkably successful (despite U.S. opposition) between 2004 and 2008. (India presented it as a confidence building measure with Pakistan.) There was agreement on routing and pricing; the only item left was the additional price of the gas at the Indian border due to enhanced security facilities to be installed by Pakistan. In 2009, however, India withdrew from the $7.6 billion project due to the fall of General Musharraf and the Mumbai attack (November 2008). But the project faced other challenges as well, such as the low quantity of gas it would have to carry, the critical security situation in Baluchistan, and the U.S. backing for another gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI).

  9. 9.

    The UCO Bank arrangement worked well during the Obama presidency, when the U.S. had only sought a “significant decrease” in oil imports from Iran (about 25%).

  10. 10.

    India’s concerns related mainly to the deepening China-Pakistan nexus, including China-Pakistan Economic Corridor/CPEC, but also their political, military and economic ties.

  11. 11.

    Scientists in the Manhattan Program had a debate among them if the nuclear weapons should be used at all. Politicians had no concern and did not hesitate. The first move against the use and further spread of the new weapons category was also started by scientists, which developed into the Pugwash … The Pugwash received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1995.

  12. 12.

    “The two sides reiterated their commitment to commence multi-lateral negotiations for nuclear disarmament under effective international control. They expressed their concern about restrictions imposed on the export of materials, technology and equipment to developing countries and acknowledged the right of these countries to research, production and use of technology, material and equipment for peaceful purposes.”

  13. 13.

    Following the test India and Pakistan announced that they would not carry out further nuclear tests. In 1954 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru proposed the “standstill” for nuclear tests, which was the beginning of the process leading to the total ban of nuclear tests under the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. India was actively participating in the negotiating process, however, has not yet signed it as it (India) demanded a timetable from the nuclear-weapon states of their nuclear disarmament. For details of the Indian nuclear program see

  14. 14.

    “For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967.” (NPT, 1968, Art. IX, para 3).

  15. 15.

    While many analysts think that the nuclear fatwa could be withdrawn by Ayatollah Khamenei, giving the chance for the development of a military program, this author considers it highly improbable, almost impossible, due to two main reasons: the legitimacy of the velayat-e faqih model and the readiness of the international community to pass stringent sanctions on Iran.

  16. 16.

    India owed Iran about 8.8 million USD for oil which it could not clear due to the sanctions. Though it tried to use Turkish banks and other alternate means, under the U.S. pressure trade had to be suspended until the nuclear deal was agreed (Khan, 2015).

  17. 17.

    “India has implemented the Security Council-mandated sanctions on Iran, but has generally been reluctant about complying with the extraterritorial or third party sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union. … third party sanctions are domestic laws of individual countries. They do not have the legitimacy of multilateralism and are not products of international consensus… New Delhi does not want to implement sanctions formulated without its input to the debate …” (Ashwarya, 2017, 162).

  18. 18.

    Several Indian companies were effected, among them those which are partly or entirely owned by foreign companies, including some partly owned by Iranian firms. E.g., 15.4% of the shares of the Chennai Petroleum are owned by the Naftiran Intertrade, while Nayara Energy is mostly owned by the Russian Rosneft.

  19. 19.

    The defense minister arrived in Tehran in early September from Moscow, where he had attended the meeting of SCO defense ministers. The external affairs minister came to Tehran a few days later, en route to Moscow. Comment in Indian media has been very limited. The defense minister’s visit was placed in the context of the deteriorating security situation in the Gulf and possible threats to shipping, while the external affairs minister’s visit was projected as addressing apparent Indian disinterest in Chabahar and the slow progress in India meeting its commitments.

  20. 20.

    To this the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) may serve as a further forum, yet, it would exceed the limits of this study to discuss the developments there.

  21. 21.

    India voted against Iran in the IAEA (2005, 2006, 2009), in spite of the fact that the government was criticized domestically for “selling out” to the U.S., with whom India’s agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation was negotiated, and there were news that the deal was conditional on Indian support to the U.S. on the Iran issue. “As far as Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions are concerned I have stated it unambiguously on several occasions that we don’t support nuclear ambitions of Iran.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (The Hindu, 2009; Rajghatta, 2005).


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Rózsa, E. (2021). Iran-India Relations Before and After the U.S. Withdrawal from the Nuclear Deal and the Consequent Sanctions. In: Leandro, F.J.B.S., Branco, C., Caba-Maria, F. (eds) The Geopolitics of Iran. Studies in Iranian Politics. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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