India and Iran: New Delhi's Other Strategic Partnership?
P.R. Kumaraswamy, an academic expert in India's relations with Middle Eastern nations, spoke at an Asia Program event on the dynamics of Indo-Iranian relations. India's foreign policy toward Iran has experienced a sharp change over the past decade, in that Iran has "suddenly become our friend, as we look to secure a long-term relationship with Iran." Previously, when Iran maintained a more isolationist position in the Middle East, India was not keen on developing close relations. However, post-1991, India started developing a closer relationsip with Iran as Tehran became more interested in reaching out to many of its neighbors. This warming trend in the relationship, Kumaraswamy argued, is in large part due to Iran moderating its foreign policy towards India. This is striking because while Iran respects "India's secular ethos," towards other nations it displays more extremist policy stances.
The critical rationale behind India strengthening its relationship with Iran is its pursuit of long-term energy security. Since the late 1990s, energy demands in India have drastically increased. Energy partnerships with Iran can offer India 7.5 million tons of gas annually. Compared to its early post-independence years, India now has the economic capacity to pursue such strategic energy sources. India-Iran-U.S. relations, however, are far more complicated, as Kumaraswamy stated that "the U.S. simply does not give India the space to pursue parallel relationships with both Iran and the U.S."
Kumaraswamy contended that the motive behind the recently concluded U.S.-India nuclear energy deal is to dissuade India from developing a strategic dependency on Iran for its energy needs. It is not simply that the U.S. does not want India to obtain energy from Iran, but rather that the U.S. is concerned that the pipeline that would be used to transport natural gas from Iran to India might complicate U.S. security interests. India's ultimate vision of a foreign policy triumph, according to Kumaraswamy, would be to secure nuclear energy from the U.S. as well as natural gas from Iran. However, Kumaraswamy concluded that such a "triumph" would have long-term costs, for all nations involved, that may outweigh its short-term benefits.