New Delhi: On his second visit to India this year, the gathering war clouds in the Gulf weighed heavily on the talks of visiting Iranian foreign minister Javed Zarif with his Indian hosts.
He was back in Delhi for the second time in four months, but for the first time since the US ended Iranian oil import waivers for eight countries, including India, from May 2.
However, while Iranian crude imports did increase, it was not the top priority during the talks. According to Indian sources, the Iranians dwelled much less on oil imports than on the decision taken to suspend some commitments made under the Iran nuclear deal and recent developments in the Gulf of Oman.
After the meeting, Zarif told Iranian media that he raised the prospect of a false-flag operation to exacerbate the situation.
“We discussed regional issues and dangers that the policies of extremist individuals in the US administration are trying to impose on the region as well as concerns about the suspicious and sabotage acts that happen in our region, and we had earlier predicted that they will adopt such measures to provoke tensions,” he said, as per state-run Fars News.
The “extremist individuals in US administration” pursuing a confrontationist policy is an obvious reference to national security advisor John Bolton and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Zarif has previously labelled ‘Team B’, including Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, as being responsible for ratcheting up the rhetoric over the “Iranian threat”.
Saudi Arabia claimed on Tuesday that two oil pumping stations were damaged by armed drones. The allegation was made just two days after the UAE claimed that oil tankers were “sabotaged” in the Gulf of Oman.
The finger was firmly pointed by the Gulf countries towards Iran, though there was no evidence. Tehran asked for clarification and also warned against “adventurism by foreign elements”.
Zarif’s visit to India has been part of his diplomatic drive to meet with regional neighbours and partners to brief them about Tehran’s position. The visit was proposed by Iran at a relatively short notice.
According to the Iranian news agency, Swaraj underlined the “necessity for Tehran to benefit from the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal”.
As per Indian sources, New Delhi reiterated its position on the Iran nuclear deal, which is also known by the acronym of the agreement, JCPOA. “India would like all parties to the agreement to continue to fulfill their commitments and all parties should engage constructively and resolve all issues peacefully and through dialogue,” they said.
On May 8, Tehran announced a series of steps to suspend commitments under the JCPOA, including export of enriched material and heavy water. The Europeans and other remaining partners in the JCPOA were also given 60 days on restoring oil and banking channels, before Iran further reduced commitments.
India is Iran’s second largest purchase of crude, but has been steadily bringing down imports.
According to Reuters, India’s oil imports in April – just before the end of waivers – fell by 31.5% compared to the previous month.
Indian officials indicated that in the face of economic sanctions, New Delhi will have to abide by them. India also publicly repeated that it had a “robust plan” for alternate sourcing once the Iranian channel could not be utilised.
Indian sources stated that the external affairs minister told Zarif that a decision will be taken “after the elections keeping in mind our commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests”.
US officials previously made an implicit link between New Delhi’s cutting down oil imports from Iran to zero and the use of American diplomatic muscle to push through the listing of Masood Azhar with the UN 1267 sanctions committee.
Besides, Afghanistan also figured in talks between the Iranian and Indian side. “Both sides expressed satisfaction at the operationalisation of the interim contract on the Chabahar Port between India Ports Global Limited (IPGL) and Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO),” said sources. The US has waived the development of Chabahar by Indian firms, acknowledging its strategic import for connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia.