College Papers

The place in bilateral relations. This paper seeks

concept of alliances has dwindled in number since the end of the cold war, and
has since given rise to the concept of strategic partnerships to take its place
in bilateral relations. This paper seeks to understand if India compartmentalises
its relationship with Iran and the United States (US) based on various elements
or if the Indo-US relationship supersedes the Indo-Iranian relationship. This
analysis is crucial because Indo-Iranian ties appear to be growing, and dissecting
this relationship will reveal the constraints and limitations of it due to US


Partnerships – what are they?

looking at what constitutes a strategic partnership according to other
countries’ definitions, it could be inferred that there are various means of
understanding what a strategic partnership is. When looking at the Sino-India
relationship, according to Beijing, a strategic partnership is understood as
the ‘mutual acceptance of the partner states’ importance to each other and to
the world at large (Deng, 2007). This includes the recognition of ‘China’s
legitimate rise, to manage areas of disagreement in order to steadily improve
the overall bilateral relationship, and to enhance coordination in promoting
their common preferences in the international arena’ (Deng, 2007). Yet, comparing
the Sino-Russia partnership with the Sino-Indian partnership sees the varying
characteristics of each partnership. While the Russian relationship is marked
by more political unity, the relationship with India is marked by a higher
level of restraint, less attention to political unity and more importance given
to technological and economic collaboration (Deng, 2007). The varying
definition of what a strategic partnership will constitute complicates the
meaning of what it means to be in a strategic partnership.


strategic partnership between EU-India and EU-China helps to clarify the
definition. While EU’s partnership with India is rooted in grounds of common
democratic values and shared interests, its partnership with China negates this
value centred narrative (Heiduk, 2014). Therefore, it could be argued that
although strategic partnerships are sometimes formulated on the basis of shared
interests and values, such partnerships are also formulated in narrower ways
that give precedence to interests rather than values (Heiduk, 2014). This
relationship that is founded on interests could also be filtered into interests
of economics, strategy and politics.


Iran and US

the partition of India in 1947, India had a shared border with Iran and they
also had cultural and linguistic ties that date back thousands of years. This
can be seen from the Persian influence on Mughal architecture, evident in the
Taj Mahal. While they had strained relations during the cold war, the end of
the cold war saw them signing a defence cooperation agreement in 2002. Despite
specific differences over the NATO occupation in Afghanistan and the Iranian
nuclear programme, Iran-Indian political and economic ties have consistently
progressed. Iran-India ties are most evident through their trade relationship
where, India’s crude oil imports from Iran in December increased 78% from
November’s imports (Reuters, 2018). While other major Asian buyers’ (China,
South Korea and Japan) imports of oil dipped, India’s imports more than
compensate for this (Reuters, 2018).


India and Iran, there is significant cooperation in the energy, trade and
economic sectors. They also cooperate to sway regional politics in a ‘constructive
role’ that contributes to regional unity and peace. Assessing Iran-India ties
is crucial because Iran’s current foreign policy is aimed at consolidating
regional prowess and ties with West Asia, while also seeking to strengthen its
ties with the EU as a counterbalance against the US.


is important because of India’s relationship with the US. India’s relationship
with the US is seen as natural due to the convergence of values and interests
(Purushothaman, 2012). Both believe in the perpetuation of the liberal order
for free flow of trade, goods and people (Purushothaman, 2012). They also agree
on the need for counter-terrorist efforts, securing supply routes along the
Indian ocean and the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan (Purushothaman,
2012). The US has viewed India as a crucial strategic partner as a means to
contain China’s growing global influence. The 2005 signing of the civilian
nuclear energy deal whereby India accepted the terms to separate its civil and
military nuclear facilities, placing the latter under the supervision of the
IAEA cemented their relationship (Rowden, 2017). This was done in exchange for
US cooperation in developing its own civil nuclear energy programme (Rowden,
2017). In 2015, India signed a 10-year defence agreement that allowed
large-scale US military hardware sales to India in exchange for India allowing
the US military access to its ports, airfields and bases (Rowden, 2017). This
relationship has been maintained since the election of President Trump as they
have spoken thrice over the phone and have also established a hotline between
PM Modi office and the White house (“Brief on India-U.S. Relations”, 2017). The US also supports India’s
bid for a permanent seat at the UNSC (Purushothaman, 2012).


the Iran-US relationship has been steadily deteriorating. The 1979 Islamic
revolution and the US hostage crisis began the hostility between Iran and the
US (Purushothaman, 2012). The US has consistently accused Iran of hampering the
Arab-Israeli peace process, supporting terrorists and disagreeing on nuclear
policy (Purushothaman, 2012). Since President Trump took office, he has pursued
a more combative approach than President Obama, who tried to interact with Iran.
President Trump’s travel ban was seen as especially hostile because of the
disproportionate impact on Iranians. The recent ‘vow to retaliate against US
sanctions’ after US’s ultimatum on the nuclear deal also stirred up animosity
between the 2 countries. The US believes that having ample resources, the
nuclear programme is more to develop weapons rather than serve the population’s
electricity needs (Purushothaman, 2012). The US animosity with Iran is rooted
in the nuclear programme, supposed quest for WMDs, support for extremist groups
such as Hezbollah and Hamas and human rights violations (Purushothaman, 2012).
Therefore, this paper will assess how India manages to maintain close relations
with both Iran and the US despite Iran and the US not being on friendly terms
with each other.



interests in Iran can be categorised into economic interests, regional
geopolitical interests and domestic incentives (Soltaninejad, 2017). In terms
of economic interests, Iran’s energy resources are viewed as critical for
India. Iran owns the second biggest natural gas reserve and is eager to attain
value out of its ample hydrocarbon reserves (Fair, 2007). India is keen to buy
these resources from Iran to meet its intended level of growth (Fair, 2007).
The Indian government aims to sustain a GDP growth level of 8-10% to alleviate
its poverty levels (Cheema, 2010). Such levels of growth necessitate a tripling
of India’s primary energy supply (Cheema, 2010). Given that India’s import
dependence levels are high, India seeks to diversify its sources and Iran’s
natural gas reserves enable this diversification (Cheema, 2010). Power and
fertiliser segments of the economy account for ¾ the natural gas demand in
India and Iran’s natural gas reserve is the second largest (Cheema, 2010).
Natural gas is predicted to be the largest part in India’s import from Iran,
especially since Indian demand increases and prices rise in the global market
(Cheema, 2010). This interest can be seen in the various plans for easier
transportation of Iran’s reserves. Beginning with the stalled
Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to the present plans for the seabed pipeline,
India hopes to find the cheapest and quickest way to transport Iran’s reserves
to India. The seabed pipeline has been pitched as cheaper given that the LNG
does not have to be reconverted to be used (Soltaninejad, 2017). India also sees
Iran as a ‘gateway’ to reach the Central Asian, Russian and European markets.
India views Iran as the best means to access these markets due to Iran’s stable
infrastructure (Soltaninejad, 2017).


signing of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) agreement
aims to transport goods through Iran to Russia and Europe (Singh Roy &
Lele, 2010). The
corridor will also link India with Myanmar and Thailand by road and fuel trade
with Europe and Southeast Asia as well (Singh Roy & Lele, 2010). For India, this corridor allows the circumventing
of Pakistan but still enables reach into Central Asian Europeans markets for a
lower cost (Singh Roy & Lele, 2010). The first phase of the Chabahar route has seen fruition
and has enabled rapid economic growth. The first shipment of 15,000 tons of
wheat reached Afghanistan via the Chabahar port on 11 November 2017 (“Chabahar
Port Empowers India-Afghanistan Trade”, 2018). The importance of the port lies in the
alternative outlet Afghanistan now has to sea as opposed to its initial
reliance on Pakistan’s ports and the access that India now has into all major
towns in Afghanistan through the Zaranj-Delaran road (Singh Roy &
Lele, 2010). This
is crucial because India need not rely on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan’s


terms of regional geopolitical interests, India sees Iran as a key partner to
achieve regional growth and security. The US policy in Afghanistan was to align
with Pakistan and this brought Iran and India to closer cooperation (Cheema,
2010). Both Iran and India have a large Shia Muslim demographic and the rise of
Sunni-Wahhabi extremism in their immediate neighbourhood caused them much
distress (Cheema, 2010). India also has other concerns such as the influence of
Taliban’s extremist ideology in inciting conflict in Kashmir (Cheema, 2010).
Both Iran and India supported Afghanistan’s anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and
opposed US policy of distinguishing between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban (Cheema,
2010). The US policy in Afghanistan was similar to its policy in Iraq because
of the way it negotiated with the moderate members of the Taliban (Cheema,
2010). These terrorist organizations based in Pakistan carry out attacks to
force India out of Afghanistan (Cheema, 2010). The US policy of negotiating
with the Taliban and aiming to reintegrate them back into the government will
elevate Pakistan’s status in Afghanistan vis-à-vis India’s (Cheema, 2010). The
Indo-Iranian Joint Working Group on Terrorism seeks to combat Taliban uprisings
and the drug trade that fuels it (Cheema, 2010). The Chabahar port is also
important geopolitically as it directly counters the Chinese-funded Gwadar port
in Pakistan and the CPEC linking Gwadar with Xinjiang (“Chabahar
Port Empowers India-Afghanistan Trade”, 2018).


close ties with Iran will internally prove that Indian foreign policy is
independent from US influence. With India’s quest to be a regional power in a
multipolar world, its independent policy will allow it to have status and power
within its backyard. This escalated into a quagmire with Iran’s nuclear policy.
This independence was exercised by when the Indian foreign minister visited Iran
during the Indo-US nuclear agreement discussions in 2007 (Soltaninejad, 2017).
India consistently supporting Iran’s freedom to possess peaceful nuclear
technology also shows its independence and distance from US policies
(Soltaninejad, 2017).


being resource-rich, aims for strategic gains in aligning with India. Iran is
keen on moving out of global isolation by forging partnerships with other
countries who are also keen on a multipolar world (Purushothaman, 2012). Iran
also views India as a source of weapons in its attempt to modernise its
military (Purushothaman, 2012). Ultimately, both states are keen on a
multipolar world, aim to restrict the spread of the Sunni-Wahhabi ideology and
seek to create stability in Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan’s rise.


review and analysis

current literature can be classified into two sections: those that argue that
India’s foreign policy is autonomous and is not influenced by the US, and those
that argue that India’s foreign policy is largely dictated by the US.


have argued that India seeks to maintain foreign policy autonomy and would not
support a US stance if it had fundamental disagreements with it.
(Purushothaman, 2012). This rhetoric has been a factor of Indian policy since
its signing of the non-alignment policy during the cold war (Purushothaman,
2012). This policy has been argued to be more about Indian capacity to withstand
superpower persuasion in influencing its policies than about neutrality
(Purushothaman, 2012). Since then, India has been argued to be more practical
in implementing its foreign policies so as to maintain strategic autonomy. Yet,
many have questioned the extent that India could ‘expand its bilateral ties
with Iran while deepening and broadening its critical relations with the US,
Israel and … other states that are wary of Iran’ (Fair, 2007).


argue that this autonomy is rarely displayed due to US influence affecting
Indian foreign policy. An example of this is the nuclear programme. India is
hesitant to have another neighbour having nuclear capacity and argues that
countries who are part of the NPT should adhere to the stipulated guidelines
and open their facilities to the IAEA (Purushothaman, 2012). The influence of
the US is evident in the timing of events. For instance, India’s vote against
Iran in the IAEA in 2005 was just after the press release over Indo-US civilian
nuclear cooperation (Purushothaman, 2012). The second vote against Iran in the
IAEA in 2006 was at the same time that the Hyde act was being deliberated (Purushothaman,
2012). The US ambassador to India, Mulford, released a statement highlighting
the costly impact on the Indo-US nuclear deal if India did not side with the US
at the IAEA (Rizvi, 2011). Such statements and events show the influence that
US has on India’s nuclear policy. India’s plan of giving reactors to Iran to be
placed under IAEA was also annulled due to US pressure (Fair, 2007). The worry
that Iran could utilise the reactors to produce WMD materials caused India to
rethink its decision and stop the sales (Fair, 2007). Since going nuclear,
India has rarely gone against the US with regard to nuclear and proliferation
and US is able to control this through the Hyde act (Soltaninejad, 2017).
Therefore, in terms of nuclear policies, India has limited capacity to be


recently, India has been exercising its autonomy in its oppositions to the
sanctions. Indian foreign secretary stated that ‘We are justifiably concerned
that the extra-territorial nature of certain unilateral sanctions… can have a
direct and adverse impact on Indian companies and more importantly, on our
energy security and our attempts to meet the development needs of our people’
(Dikshit, 2016). This shows that despite leaning towards the US on most
instances, these instances seem to be timely to India’s development. The
opposition towards sanctions also shows its support for Iran and for its
domestic economic benefit. This shows that India exercises its autonomy when
its internal security is affected and also when economic consequences might be
costly. Furthermore, consistently siding with the US gave rise to domestic
controversy asserting that Manmohan Singh gave away India’s autonomous policy
for the sake of a stronger partnership with the US (Fair, 2007).


that argue that India’s foreign policy is independent and is not contingent on
US approval attest to the timing of Indo-Iranian defence cooperation. The first
joint naval exercise in 2003 was at the same time as US military expansion
before invading Iraq (Fair, 2007). The second exercise in 2006 was just before
discussions regarding the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal (Fair, 2007). Despite
the importance of US to Indian defence projects, that these military exercises
took place at these crucial times, shows that India’s foreign policy is not
dictated by the US.


both Indian and Iranian interests for a multipolar world, these scholars argue
that Indian policy is independent due to the goals of ‘soft-balancing’
(Soltaninejad, 2017). This concept sees the coalition of second-tier states
against the US through non-military means. These means include the limiting of
diplomatic partnerships and joining together at international institutions. US
plan to contain Iran was countered through the boosting of ties with other
second-tier states such as India (Soltaninejad, 2017). Similarly, Iran’s policy
of the ‘look to the East’ was a way for it to boost its ties with Eastern
states so as to counterbalance against Western influence (Soltaninejad, 2017).
Such strengthening of ties complicated US procedures to impose sanctions or
political pressures (Soltaninejad, 2017). In India’s case, Iran’s use of
economic benefits to further its political ambitions sways India towards Iran
for the economic benefits. This can be seen from the way India provided
state-backed insurance for oil tankers that contained Iranian oil when
Europeans insurers refused to do so due to trade sanctions by the US
(Soltaninejad, 2017). This shows that, when it comes to its energy needs or
economic needs, India is willing to take Iran’s side.


independence of Indian foreign policy from both Iran and US can be seen from
the stalling of the IPI pipeline. It can be argued that US concerns of this
pipeline uplifting the Iranian energy sector through the revenue and by
consequence allowing it to expand its export capacity will see the undermining
effect of US sanctions (Cheema, 2010). However, it would be too simplistic to
argue that this was the only factor affecting India’s decision. Instead, Pakistan
not allowing a feasibility study, the pricing structure, and even the history
of Pakistan following through on its commitments gives India reason for doubt
(Purushothaman, 2012). That the price that Iran requested after including
transit fees at Pakistan was too high was also a practical reason
(Purushothaman, 2012). Therefore, it could be argued that India is independent
in its decisions and will only go forward on plans that are pragmatic to itself.



Ultimately, although the balancing act has proven to be difficult, this
will only worsen due to interconnectedness. The inherent benefits that come
with partnering with a superpower, Israel’s position as India’s biggest weapons
supplier and the pursuit of gas and oil contracts with the Arab states places
the sustenance of India’s balancing act in a difficult place (Fair, 2007). The recent
4-month deadline on Iran’s nuclear sanctions, might draw Iran closer to India
to further boost regional cooperation and defend itself from US sanctions. Although
Indian commentators have argued that ‘if the Americans are insisting on an ‘either-or’,
it is in India’s interests to choose nuclear cooperation with Washington over
hydrocarbons from Iran. What they do not realize is that a country of India’s
strength has the political and diplomatic ability to get both’ (Fair, 2007). This
statement proves true as this is the basis of a strategic partnership –
cooperating based on interests. A country with the power of India has the
ability to compartmentalize its relationship with its partners. In this case,
matters relating to nuclear policies see India mostly siding with US and
matters with influence on regional politics, energy and economy see India prioritizing
Iran. Despite arguments of whether India has neglected the autonomous foreign
policy to side with the US or whether the pro-west shift is a pragmatic move to
combat the present situation, through this paper it can be seen that rather
than taking sides, it is more so a choice to compartmentalize the relationship in
order to match India’s interests (Rizvi, 2011).