The United States, whose relationship with India is on an “upward trajectory,” will take into consideration the impact sanctions against Tehran will have on India’s Chabahar port project in Iran that provides a surface link between India and Afghanistan, according to a senior US State Department official. “When it comes to Chabahar, we are in the process of reviewing the imposition of sanctions,” Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, told IANS in an interview.
“So that process (of review) is underway and we take India’s concerns and interest in being able to expand exports to Afghanistan and to increase Afghanistan exports to India, very seriously,” she said. “As we look at the reinforcement of the JCPOA or the sanctions, we will, I think carefully, evaluate the impact that it could have, for instance on Afghanistan,” she added.
The Trump administration has pulled out of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany and the European Union, to end sanctions in return for Tehran stopping nuclear weapons development.
Washington has begun re-imposing sanctions on Iran and warning those trading with it would come under its ambit. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif discussed the sanctions when they met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. Foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said Iran and India had “civilisational ties” and the discussions went beyond the sanctions issue.
“Certainly the wheat exports that India has sent to Afghanistan have been critical particularly at a time when the drought is having such an impact and will certainly impact the supplies that will be available to the Afghan population this year,” Wells said.
Last year, New Delhi sent 1.1 million tonnes of wheat as aid to Afghanistan through Chabahar and the road link it built to connect it to that country. India is investing USD500 million to develop the Chabahar port and the road link from there to Afghanistan gives access to that country bypassing Pakistan.
Relations between the U.S. and India are on “an upward trajectory” and “this is one of the most dynamic and strategic partnerships that the United States enjoys,” Wells said, adding that “under the Trump administration India features prominently in both our approach to the South Asian region” and the Indo-Pacific strategy.
However, “In any mature partnership there are sometimes going to be differences over tactics and we are able to have very constructive conversations on our approaches to the region and to the neighbourhood,” Wells said.
“It’s amazing the number of cabinet officials and high-level visitors that we have in India every month of the year,” Wells said, adding, “That too reflects the density of the ties between our countries that I think we have over 40 major dialogues that take place between our government agencies and departments.”
“There is never a moment, you know, when we are not consulting with and benefiting from the relationship that we have with India,” she said.
She said the joint statement that came out of the 2+2 Strategic Dialogue in New Delhi this month between the Indian Defence and External Affairs Ministers and the US Secretaries of State and Defence was a defining document in the growing relationship between the two nations.
It framed “the depth of this strategic partnership and the new advances we are making in our ability to work together, military-to-military, to increased defence inter-operability, the signing of the COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement), which allows our militaries to share classified information with one another and to facilitate sales,” Wells said.
Another important area in India-US relations is the focus on the Indo-Pacific region. “At the heart of it is the open trading system that has benefited all of the countries of the region,” Wells said.
“America has about USD1.4 trillion in bilateral trade with the countries of the Indo-Pacific region.” Asked about the China factor in the Indo-Pacific strategy, Wells said, “I think the Indian and American administrations (it) is not a zero sum construct; it is not designed to be against any country but rather for a set of principles.”
“The maritime channels are vital to global prosperity and security and so the initiatives that we are undertaking, whether its economic or promoting regional connectivity, governance, in promoting the policies that allow economies to operate freely in security, to determine maritime security as well as humanitarian assistance during times of crisis - all of these are deeply in the interest of all of the countries of the region,” she said.
Besides the strategic and political common interests, there are also “deep people-to-people ties that bind our countries together, whether it is through the diaspora communities or the 186,000 students who are in the United States studying, and the million and a half or 1.6 million who come, travel to the United States, and the over 1 million American tourists who travel to India,” Wells noted.