Donald Trump

Modi finds his nerves tested by US on Iran

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

United States wants India to cut down its oil imports from Iran which stands as its third biggest supplier after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. President Donald Trump has followed his pre-election promise with withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA) which had enabled China, Russia, France, Germany UK, European Union and the US itself to dilute the economic sanctions against Tehran. Now the sanctions are back in place with the deadline of November 6, 2018 and the world is in turmoil, no less India.

The Trump administration has chosen a new way to browbeat the countries which don’t fall in line. Last August, it introduced CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) to scare those away from trade relations with “hostile” countries such as Russia, North Korea and Iran. International banks and companies which defy the sanctions would bear the brunt. Less oil imports from Iran would hike up the prices and import bills, not just of India but of many around the world. It would hit both inflation and Indian rupee. Since US dominates the re-insurance and payment gateways, bypassing them is difficult.

India’s dilemma is apparent. Before 2005, it paid $12-14 billion annually to oil bills by Iran. But signing the 2005 Indo-US Nuclear Civil Deal, gave New Delhi’s leash in US hands. India voted against Iran in the IAEA General Conference in September the very year; dithered on the Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline and sounded the death knell of Turkmenistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. By 2014, India had reduced the Iranian oil imports to $4 billion annually.

The US treasury methodically shut down the banking options for India who then began paying Turkey by cash which then converted it to gold bars and sent it across to Tehran. India was in no position to pay oil bills in US dollars. India did try the balancing act: while Reserve Bank of India (RBI) ceased dealing with Tehran-based Asian Clearing Union in 2010, it came to an understanding with Iran to pay half of its bill in Indian rupees in 2012.

But once the JCPOA came into being, India-Iran trade relations grew back to 2012 days. India also decided to pay out $6.5 billion it owed to Iran, held up due to sanctions. Modi government renewed the stalled Chahbahar port project. Its’ ministers made a beeline to Tehran with promises of oil and infrastructural projects. Iran obliged on its part by granting Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) the gas fields of Farzad B for exploration. The air of optimism only grew better when Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited New Delhi this February with his oil minister Bijan Zanganeh. India pledged it would double its oil imports from Iran in 2018-2019. Iran, on its part, promised to cut down the freight by $1 per barrel. India pledged to increase import by 500,000 barrels a day.

But now comes the fresh US imposition. Even though foreign minister Sushma Swaraj has reiterated India would only abide by the mandates sanctioned by the United Nations (UN), it’s easier said than done. India and US have a booming trade of $140 billion which could take a grave hit, as well as around $31 billion of bilateral trade surplus advantage India has. Chahbahar port project, which could save millions in trade and increase Afghanistan’s tilt towards India, stands to lose steam. Besides, it just would give a bigger fillip to China to snug closer to Iran, shutting the doors on India.

India would be encouraged by the stand of UK, France, Germany who have expressed “regret and concern over Trump’s disruptive action. The Modi government meanwhile has started to flex its own muscles: in reaction to US postponing the 2+2 dialogue, India has declined US’ offer to host Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. India also seems steadfast in increasing its military deals with Russia which faces similar offensive sanctions from United States.

The one fall-out of all this, including trade barriers ratcheted up by both US and India, is Modi government swinging back appreciably into the China-Russia zone. India has this strategic advantage where countries are looking to wow India rather than the other way around. However, India-US relations for the moment are several notches down than they have ever been since Trump came to power.

Modi and calculus behind “no” on Jerusalem

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

There’s been a disquiet in India’s public space over Modi government’s rejection of US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital in a United Nations General Assembly resolution recently.

This disquiet has grown to anger after Palestinian envoy in Islamabad was seen in the company of Mumbai attack mastermind and global terrorist Hafiz Saeed in Rawalpindi though a strong protest by India since then has led to envoy’s recall to home by the Palestinian Authority.

The erudite supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are questioning why he would stand with the Palestinian cause and vote against US, and Israel,  having worked so hard to get both of them eating out of his hand lately.

Modi had become the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel in July 2017 and the latter’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to visit India in the first fortnight of the new year.

Israel’s support in the realm of technology, agriculture, security and defense has ramped up significantly in recent times and Trump misses no opportunity to gush over India and its leader.

The rabid supporters of BJP are aghast why their government would stand by “ungrateful” Muslims while it’s erudite patrons are questioning why New Delhi didn’t abstain from voting as 35 others had done.

Adding to the chill is US ambassador to UN Nikki Haley’s crude words “…this vote will make a difference…on how we look at countries who disrespect us in the UN.” Trump threatened to cut down funds to those who opposed him and Netanyahu called the UN a “a house of lies.”

The truth is, India did everything right on all three counts which should matter for the country: beneficial, practical and moral.

About 19 per cent of India’s total world trade is accounted for in the Middle East (as compared to nearly 1 per cent with Israel) which ought to halt in track the juggernaut of criticism. Such scales of benefit could only be denied by fools, if not blind.

The practical takeaways, if anything, are bigger. US has fallen flat on its face in West Asia and its strategy to sow discord and anarchy through Iraq invasion and conduits for the growth of Islamic State (IS) has been successfully reversed by Russia, in alliance with Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. So much so that even a traditional US supporter Turkey is on the opposite side of the fence.

The vacuum of US in the Middle East would soon be filled up by Russia in alliance with China which is using its typical trade and infrastructure growth route to look for strategic stranglehold in the region. India would be foolish to be seen standing in opposition to the new Big Boys in the region. India can’t overlook the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) too which would encircle it in an iron clasp more so since China is parking itself on ports of Sri Lanka. Letting go of West Asia at this stage would be a suicide, no less.

By rejecting the Trump’s move on Jerusalem, India is also letting the world know of its independence lest it be seen as a US lackey. It would earn India respect and a sense among its friends that it’s a principled ally. Further, India can’t allow itself to be bound by Trump’s often hasty and boorish decisions.

Absentation would’ve been a paper umbrella—only giving the notion of protection against a downpour. It would still have earned a scorn from the free world, without quite endearing it to US or Israel. Worse, it could’ve emboldened them to see if they could kick around India in future.

India’s decision to stand on its moral compass would draw a host of lesser nations in its orbit. Forget criticism, Modi government’s move deserves a standing ovation.

To brush up history for the uninitiated, Israel has been controlling the eastern Jerusalem since the 1967 six-day war. It’s being sought by the Palestinians as the capital for its future state.