The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, has been called off by US President Donald Trump. This has opened a Pandora’s box as the nuclear deal that put checks on the Iranian nuclear programme is now gone. Iran is free again to proliferate and develop its nuclear weapons. The landmark nuclear deal was serving its purposes well since its inception.
Not only did it bring the US and Iran a bit closer but also brought new equations for Iran and the US allies in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both these countries have been sworn enemies of Iran. After the deal in 2015, both the Israelis and Saudis wanted the US to exit the deal as it was preventing them from taking direct action against Iran, which was indulging in regional wrongdoing in countries like Syria and Yemen.
Iran has found itself in opposition against Saudis and Israel in most of the regional conflicts due to its traditional ideological rivalries against both these States. While the US used to support its allies openly against Iran, which allied with groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and states like Syria and extra-regional powers like Russia; lately it was observed that the US had become more accommodative of Iranian positions in these regional conflicts. This was suffocating the Saudis and Israelis as they wanted a firm stand and proactive support from the US against Iran. This was not possible until the nuclear deal was on.
After the Break
Soon after the deal broke, Iran and Israel came face to face with both parties targeting each other’s military positions. While Iranian rockets targeted Israeli positions in the Golan Heights, Israel reciprocated by conducting extensive strikes against Iranian targets across Syria. The situation has escalated to a dangerous level between these two countries. Israel has been irked since long due to a large Iranian presence on the Syrian territory from where it can hit Israel much easily.
Iran has slammed the US decision to walk away from the deal. The Iranian President in his speech said, “The US is a country that has never adhered to its commitments”. He warned the US that with the deal off now, Iran could restart enriching uranium “without any limitations” within a few weeks.
For now, Iran’s official position is to stay in the nuclear deal as it is waiting to see the positions taken by the other five remaining countries in the deal, namely, Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK.
On the other hand, Trump has warned Iran of having bigger problems than they ever had before if Iran chooses to re-start its nuclear programme. The situation in the Middle East is so fragile now that one wrong decision by Iran or any of the US allies in the region can lead to a full-scale war.
The shadow war, which Iran and Israel have been fighting in Syria over the years has now burst into the open. The calling off of the deal is a win for the extremists and the hardliners across the stakeholders while the losers have been the liberals who voted for this deal and wanted this deal to remain intact.
Concern for India
With all this happening, India’s position on this issue would be interesting to look into. Though India is not a party to the Iran nuclear deal, the recent events and the events, which would be unfolding soon, would have larger implications for India.
In the last few years, India has invested heavily in projects like Chabahar and INSTC (International North-South Trade Corridor), which passes through Iran’s territory. If the situation worsens and a conflict escalates between Iran and the US or any of its allies, the future of these projects would be jeopardised.
Secondly, with Iran and the US on opposing sides, India would not want to be in a situation where it has to choose between one of the two. Till now, India had successfully balanced its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel as well as the US. Iran is, at present, India’s third biggest supplier of oil (after Iraq and Saudi Arabia) and any tussle with Iran will impact the already inflated oil prices.
When asked about India’s position on this matter, MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar stated, “We are assessing the implications this might have on our interests. At this stage, I can share with you that the government will take all necessary measures, which are required to safeguard our interests. We have emphasised that all parties should engage constructively to address and resolve the issues that have arisen out of JCPOA and we have always supported a peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy”.
Tehran’s envoy to New Delhi Massoud Rezvanian Rahagh has cleared the Iranian position by saying that if European partners and others stick to promises and commitments under the JCPOA, then Iran too will fulfil its commitments, and oil trade with India will not be affected.
The next fortnight is very crucial for all the parties and stakeholders of this deal. India, on its part, would be looking forward to engaging in ‘deft diplomacy’ so that it does not come in the line of fire and its own interests in the region are not harmed.
(The author is Research Fellow at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University)