M K Bhadrakumar |
Only Tehran could have punctured US President Donald Trump’s massive ego with just a delicate deflection by the wrist. It all began on the weekend with an innocuous media disclosure in Iran that Trump had sought a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani during the latter’s visit to New York in September to address the UN General Assembly, but the latter spurned the overture summarily. On Sunday Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahran Qassemi commented crisply, “A request indeed was made by the US side, but it wasn’t accepted by President Rouhani.”
Of course, Washington went into a tizzy with White House struggling to deny the Iranian report at first, but belatedly realizing, perhaps, that a lie might boomerang, allowed the State Department spokesperson to tamely confirm it on Tuesday.
Trump’s request was apparently transmitted to the Iranian side when the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javed Zarif were closeted together on the sidelines of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the P5+1 and Iran to review the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in September.
The episode speaks volumes about Trump, the man and the statesman – and his times in the White House and the US foreign policies in such extraordinary times. Countries such as India or China must draw appropriate conclusions.
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Indian analysts, in particular, are still crowing about Tillerson’s recent rhetoric at the CSIS conjuring up from thin air a quadripartite alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia to contain China, while Trump, on the other hand, is preparing for a momentous state visit to China looking for some foreign-policy trophy as outcome in his barren presidency.
The point is, Trump could so blithely befool the wily Saudi King Salman and the pompous Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one go, sending them into wild ecstasy that he is about to go after the jugular veins of the Iranian leaders, while in reality also desiring to cultivate them on the quiet or at least keep open a line of communication to them – and, perhaps, even do some business with Tehran for ‘America First’.
India cannot miss the point that Russia and Iran that could be meaningful partners in fostering regional connectivity.
The bad part is that the US is also intruding into India’s Iran policies. Did India have to cut back oil imports from Iran and replace it with US shale oil? For the US (or Israel), it is important that India-Iran relations remain sub-optimal for as long as their own relationships with Iran remain problematic. India’s interests, on the other hand, lie in forging a strategic partnership with Iran that can be highly productive and beneficial for advancing its development strategy as well as for strengthening regional security. To borrow the American expression, Iran is India’s ‘natural partner’.
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Nothing brings this home as when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proposed to the visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday that a transportation corridor could be built connecting the Iranian port of Chabahar with St-Petersburg. India cannot miss the point that Russia and Iran that could be meaningful partners in fostering regional connectivity. Simply put, geography dictates geopolitics and geo-economy.
The bottom line is that the Iranian snub to Trump also highlights its strategic defiance of the US’ attempts to (re)impose hegemony in what the Americans call the ‘Greater Middle East’ – stretching from the Levant to the Central Asian steppes. Delhi should pay serious attention to the remark by Khamenei to Putin yesterday when he said that the “good cooperation” between Iran and Russia in Syria has proved “meaningful” and bore “important results”, and above all, “this cooperation showed that Tehran and Moscow can realize common goals in difficult situations.” (Tehran Times)
On Sunday Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahran Qassemi commented crisply, “A request indeed was made by the US side, but it wasn’t accepted by President Rouhani.”
Khamenei didn’t specifically refer to Afghanistan, but the thought couldn’t have been far from his mind. The US’ plans to consolidate an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan is actually aimed at encircling Iran and Russia and containing them. It is useful to recall in this context that the then Iranian and Russian foreign ministers – Ali Akbar Velayati and Evgeniy Primakov – had worked closely together to bring the Tajik civil war to an end in 1997. Equally, Iran and Russia were on the same page in supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan during 1997-2001.
No doubt, the preference of Tehran and Moscow once again will be to carry Delhi along with them in the struggle for strengthening regional security and stability through regional initiatives – as Khamenei’s remark on connecting Chabahar with St. Petersburg implies.
M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.