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‘Not a concern for India’: Iranian envoy on China’s role in patch up with Saudi

NEW DELHI: India shouldn’t have concerns about China’s role in brokering an agreement for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the move will help improve regional security and stability, Iranian ambassador Iraj Elahi said on Friday.

Wang Yi, director of Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and national security adviser of Saudi Arabia Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban pose for pictures during a meeting in Beijing on March 10 (via REUTERS File Photo)

There have been shortcomings on the part of both Iran and India in developing Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman and bilateral cooperation on this strategic project needs to move at a faster pace, Elahi said in his first interaction with Indian reporters since he took over the post six months ago.

China hosted the previously unannounced talks between top Saudi and Iranian security officials last week that led to a trilateral announcement on the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia for resuming diplomatic ties snapped in 2016. The announcement took countries across Asia and the Middle East by surprise, and Elahi said Iran kept the talks confidential because of concerns about a “third factor” – an apparent reference to the US.

“The resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia…would be to the benefit of India since it helps [strengthen] stability and peace in the region and security in the Persian Gulf,” Elahi said.

He noted a large part of the Indian diaspora is in Persian Gulf countries and said, “So, it would be to the benefit of India despite [the agreement being reached with] the mediation of China. I think it is not a concern for India.”

China is a global power “competing with the US” while India is a rising power set to become the third largest economy, he said. “India can easily and calmly improve its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states without any concern,” he added.

The agreement will affect all aspects of the region – security, economy and culture – since Iran and Saudi Arabia are the “main pillars of the Muslim world”, Elahi contended.

“Saudi Arabia is a leading country in the Sunni world, Iran is a leading nation in the Shia world. It will affect the region positively,” he said.

Elahi also said Chabahar port should be seen in the context of the “strategic partnership” between India and Iran and cooperation on the project is based on three criteria – construction of the port, its connection to Iran’s rail network, and a request to the Indian side to route more cargo through the port.

Iran roped in India for developing the port as it lacked funds for infrastructure projects because of Western sanctions. “We expected India to send its cargo through Chabahar and second, to help us to train Iranians on how to expand our ports,” he said.

After waiting for India to help with the rail link, Iran began constructing the line between Zahedan and Chabahar on its own and some equipment installed by India was yet to be made operational, Elahi said.

“We believe the Indian government has a positive approach towards Iran and Chabahar. There are shortcomings from both sides…The speed of cooperation, progress and promotion should be very fast, faster than what it is now,” he added.

Elahi said it was up to India to decide on resuming oil imports from Iran, which were suspended in 2019 because of the threat of US secondary sanctions.

Iran has also developed mechanisms for oil exports and money transfers that help cope with sanctions.

“We believe India is and was strong enough and powerful to stand against the pressures of the West…India could easily resist the pressure of the West and the US as India resisted against pressure on buying oil from Russia…We hope that for the benefit of Indian companies, economy and people, the Indian government will start importing oil,” he said.

Iran and India also have similar concerns about Afghanistan, especially the threat emanating from the trafficking of drugs and weapons. A mix of pressure, negotiations and encouragement should be used by countries in the region to get the Taliban to put in place a comprehensive and multi-ethnic government in Afghanistan, he said.

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