The "Strategic Partnership" Between India and Iran
In January 2003 Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami signed the New Delhi Declaration, creating a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. The Declaration addresses the following: bilateral economic cooperation, cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons, science and technology, information technology, education and training, India-Iran cooperation in reconstruction of Afghanistan, cooperation in fighting international terrorism, and other global issues.
C. Christine Fair, Associate Policy Analyst, at RAND, and Jalil Roshandel, Visiting Professor, at Duke University spoke about India/ Iran relations.
Fair noted it is not surprising that India would try to form relations with Iran because India has good relations with many of the countries in the region, including both Arab countries and Israel. She described India's recent history with regard to its relations with Iran in three phases:
1) Between 1979 and 1990: India felt Iran would cast-off contacts with the West; Iran began to espouse and export Islamic causes. During this period, India and Iran had common concerns and security threats such as U.S. hegemony, the collapse of the U.S.S.R. -- which threatened the stability of Central Asia, energy resources, the emergence of the Taliban, and the need to develop business and commercial contacts.
2) 1990-September 11, 2001: Most Indian-Iranian relations during this phase revolved around the industrial sector because Iran needed infrastructural support, and India provided a low cost option.
3) Post-September 11: Both countries have strategic concerns of containing terror and maintaining the integrity of energy supplies. With the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and with its designation by President Bush as a charter member of the "Axis of Evil," Iran reemphasized the importance of its relationship with India, a friend and advocate in good standing with the U.S.
The relationship today is driven by heavy investment in Central Asia for trade with the region and Russia, India's reliance on Iran as a passageway to Central Asia, political necessities such as the fear of Iranian isolation in the international community, Internet technology, Iran's desire for defense ties and India's increasing licensing of Russian spare parts, and finally, naval relations. Fair noted that India did not support the U.S. invasion of Iraq and questioned the direction of Indo-U.S. relations as well as Indo-Israel relations, especially if the U.S. would engage Iran.
Roshandel explained that Iran had not resolved its international problems following the Iran-Iraq war and had been facing increased international pressure in part due to the U.S. sanctions against Iran. Roshandel said Iran failed in its first attempt to increase activity in Central Asia; in comparison, he noted, Turkey had been more successful in doing so with the support of the United States. He noted that that though the Tehran declaration was signed by Khatami in January 2003, it took Iran and India nearly 14 years to reach this agreement. The discussions between the two countries started under former President Rafsanjani and Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi. Over the last decade and a half both countries aimed at improving trilateral cooperation between Iran-India-Central Asia.
Roshandel noted that the 2003 agreement has been less of strategic and more of political and economic significance. Iran is facilitating access to the Persian Gulf states for India and acting as transit country between the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. This relationship is further strengthened by Iran's interest in India's infrastructure capacity, and India's interest in importing Iran's natural gas (the world's 2nd largest reserves). In conclusion, as India values a path to the Middle East and both countries fear fundamentalist gains in Pakistan, Roshandel stated the agreement must be viewed as a means of stabilizing the region.
Middle East Project, 691-4252