Following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear drama continues to trigger geopolitical reconfigurations and strategic realignments.
Washington’s latest decision to postpone the high-level inaugural 2+2 dialogue with New Delhi, scheduled for July 6 in Washington, is not helpful to the generally favorable atmosphere in Indo-US relations. The 2+2 dialogue format was one of the major takeaways from Modi’s landmark visit to the US in June 2017. India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and defense minister Nirmala Sitharaman were scheduled to visit Washington to hold joint talks with their counterparts, Mike Pompeo and James Mattis.
The postponement comes at a time when New Delhi has been asked to “go to zero” in Iranian oil imports by November 4. This tough message was delivered by Nikki Haley, the US permanent representative to the UN, during her recent India visit. It is not clear if the Trump administration’s abrupt decision is linked to India’s reported reluctance to cut down on oil supplies from Iran, but it clearly indicates the uncertainty characterizing Indo-US relations regarding Iran.
Trump is tightening the screws on Tehran as it begins to impose severely punitive sanctions. India is also facing tremendous pressure following the categorical message from the Trump administration to all American allies and partners to stop all oil imports from Tehran. Trump wants to see visible steps taken in this direction in the wake of the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Given the huge geopolitical and geoeconomic stakes for India in Iran, this is a serious challenge for New Delhi.
Trump’s message to India is clear. As declared by Haley in New Delhi, “The Tehran regime is the hidden – and sometimes not-so-hidden – force behind most of the conflict in the region… Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon threatens all of us.” In an interview, Haley reiterated the message: “I think for the future of India, future of resources, we would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran.” In this line of thinking, the US has its most enthusiastic partner in Saudi Arabia, India’s close ally in the Middle East.