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India suffers as Trump’s tough line allows Iran to embrace China

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Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei had a slogan “Neither East, nor West”. Khamenei wanted the post-revolution Iran to depend on no one but Tehran is now ready to dump the non-alignment mantra and collapse into China’s embrace.

The United States of America made it happen. It slapped crippling sanctions on Iran and bullied allies to keep distance from Tehran and India was one of the countries that complied.

Last year, when the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a visit to India, he had a clear message on Iran while sitting right next to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, Pompeo said: “We also know that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, and we know the Indian people, how they have suffered from terror around the world.”

That statement was a sign of things to come.

Donald Trump’s administration is on a collision course with Iran. Trump walked out of the nuclear deal, slapped sanctions on Tehran and swept allies into confrontation, whether they liked it or not.

India was one of them, it chose to side with the US and stopped buying oil from Iran, and put its investment in the Chabahar project in cold storage. India chose to comply with American sanctions.

Close ties with America is a priority for the Modi government. Prime Minister Modi has invested personal political capital in the relationship. First with the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston — an event that was attended by 50,000 people. Trump used the opportunity to attract more Indian-Americans to his corner.

A few months later, the US President repeated this pitch in Ahmedabad. He received a king’s welcome in Modi’s home state. Trump was greeted by locals in a 22-kilometer roadshow and thrown a grand reception at the world’s largest cricket stadium.

However, New Delhi’s list of complaints with Washington is growing. The biggest pinch that India has felt after siding with the US is on its oil bills. India is the world’s third-biggest oil consumer. India imports almost 80 per cent of its oil requirements and Iran was the third-largest supplier mainly because of the easy transaction terms.

Iran reportedly used to offer India a longer credit period of 60 days and the cargo insurance was free but American sanctions have forced India to buy from other West Asian nations. Other bilateral issues with the US have also been hurting India. The US terminated the preferential trade status for India — a move that led to duties on exports of nearly two thousand Indian products.

Trump’s tone and tenor hasn’t helped the relationship. In April, the US President had warned of retaliation over the curbs on exports of hydroxychloroquine.

Trump’s tough stand has driven Tehran towards Beijing. China and Iran are on the cusp of signing a $400 billion strategic partnership.

America gets its way and China gets a new partner but India has lost a strategic ally and an oil supplier. Delhi’s policy of strategic autonomy is yet to show in the case of Iran.

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