Despite Tehran’s disappointment with India’s decision to not import Iranian oil, its warm relationship with New Delhi continues. Iranian officials swift bid to remove anti-India posters from the Pakistani consulate in Mashhad on August 15 and its refusal to join hands with other organisations such as the OIC – Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – in cautioning India on the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir has been well appreciated by New Delhi.
Iran has sought to assuage any concerns that India may have about the series of tweets put out by the Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei on Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 saying that it merely wants justice for all Kashmiris.
“Our Leader’s tweet stated that we have a very good relationship with India and we urge India to ensure that no injustices are carried out against the people of Jammu and Kashmir. That is something that the people and the government of India want as well. This position is not against India, not against Kashmir,” Iran’s ambassador to India Ali Chegeni told reporters on Monday.
Despite close bilateral relations, India’s strategic tango with Iran to help develop the Chabahar port appears to have hit a major roadblock. Dismayed with the tardiness being shown by New Delhi in developing the railway line that is to link this port with Zahedan on the Iran-Afghanistan border, Tehran has decided to complete the rail link itself.
The railway line to Zahedan is crucial as it is vital for connectivity to land-locked Afghanistan via Chabahar. The port in Iran’s Sistan Baluchistan province is strategically important for India too, allowing it access to Afghanistan while by-passing Pakistan.
Expressing dismay with the pace of progress being shown by India on the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link: “Our Indian colleagues are not on the same page. We would have been happy to have seen our Indian brothers being much more active in Chabahar.”
For good measure, the envoy added, “Chabahar is the golden gate. Time is moving quickly. There is a lot of will but the will to act is missing.” Noting that Iran had been expecting credit lines for rail project, he said the lack of interest being shown by India, Iran has decided to go ahead with the project by using its own resources.
That India is going slow on Chabahar as well as other connectivity projects linked to it has been evident for some time. It slashed the budget allocation for the crucial port being slashed by one-third in the 2019-2020 budget. The US sanctions on Iran have clearly had a debilitating impact on Indian moves on Chabahar. The port has got a sanctions waiver but only for providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
On the oil front, the Iranian ambassador stated that if India did not move fast other countries could and would benefit from importing Iranian oil. “India stopped purchasing of oil from Iran because of its national interest. We respect that and we understand it. But at the same China invested $280 billion in oil, gas and petrochemical sectors. Bear in mind that there is no UN sanction against Iran, this is a unilateral US sanction. So this a decision for the Indian government to make.”
Asked about the recent media reports that claimed that President Trump and President Rouhani were on the verge of a meeting, the ambassador dismissed it as Trump’s bid to have a “photo-op” as he did with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when the two leaders held a summit meeting
“The point is that America is hostile towards us and they have been for a long time. The roots of American hostility towards us is that we are no longer their milking cow. What did we give them? We used to give them 6 million barrels of oil a day and now that this has been cut, they are angry. They remain angry.”