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VP Dhankar Visits Tehran, India Demonstrates Solidarity with Iran

May 23, 2024
PTI05 22 2024 000201B

Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar arrived in Tehran on May 22 to participate in memorial services for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, both of whom were among nine officials and crew killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, a special gesture by New Delhi to show solidarity with Iran amidst the loss of its key leaders. While the sudden change in leadership is unlikely to mean any major shift in India-Iran relations, it could slow down the pace of ties, given the particular role both Mr. Raisi and Mr. Abdollahian played in strengthening bilateral relations, leading up to the signing of the 10-year contract for Chabahar port just a week prior to the crash.

Mr. Dhankhar met with Iran’s Acting President Mohammad Mokhber in Tehran to express India’s condolences. Accompanied by India’s Ambassador to Iran Gaurav Shresth, Mr. Dhankhar paid his tributes at their coffins laid out at Iran International Conference Centre where a special commemorative service for foreign dignitaries was held. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, as well as leaders from Iraq, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and several West Asian countries, and special envoys from Russia and China also attended, among an estimated 40 foreign delegations who took part in the services. On Thursday, Mr. Raisi will be buried in Mashhad and the others killed would be buried in their respective hometowns.

“The presence of Vice-President Dhankhar at the funeral and the condolence messages of Prime Minister Modi and Dr. Jaishankar attest to India’s sincerity and desire to further enrich ties with Iran,” observed former Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, who has authored books on West Asian dynamics and India’s strategic imperatives.

On Tuesday, India held a day of official mourning, and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had visited the Iranian Embassy, writing in the condolence book that Mr. Raisi and Mr. Abdollahian would “always be remembered as friends of India who contributed immensely to the growth of the India-Iran relationship”. Mr. Raisi, who took office in 2021, was key to maintaining India’s interest in the Chabahar agreement in the last few years, facilitating Indian aid to Afghanistan via the port once Pakistan stopped the land transit, despite a downturn in India-Iran bilateral trade, especially in energy after U.S. sanctions kicked in.

Officials also pointed out that even if India and Iran had not achieved the full potential of their economic cooperation, that was because of “external issues and not bilateral” ones.

In 2019, India decided to completely “zero out” its import of Iranian oil due to U.S. pressure, which took trade down from US $17.03 billion in 2018-2019 to just $4.77 billion in 2019-2020, down further in 2022-2023 to about $2.33 billion. Mr. Raisi met with Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the BRICS and the SCO summits in 2022 and 2023, while Mr. Abdollahian made a visit to Delhi in 2022, and hosted Mr. Jaishankar in Tehran in January 2024. Indian and Iranian leaders are due to meet on the sidelines of the upcoming SCO summit in Astana on July 3-4 and the expanded BRICS Summit in Moscow on October 22-24 as well.

“There is no doubt that the mutual understanding especially with regard to the strategic Chabahar project has been reinforced during the tenure of late President Raisi and his Foreign Minister. But the bilateral relationship itself is based on regional and global dynamics, their mutual benefit, and a cultural and civilisational connect, which has now expanded with BRICS plus and the SCO. Hence, in my view, the interactions and ongoing projects will sustain their momentum,” Mr. Trigunayat told The Hindu.

India was key to Iran’s inclusion in the SCO last year and BRICS this year, and worked its balance of an outreach to Israel over the last few years as well. If the Modi government signed on to the I2U2 and IMEEC involving Israel, it also stepped up plans for Chabahar port and the International North-South Transport Corridor to Russia with Iran. It remains to be seen whether the U.S.’ latest veiled threat on sanctions against the new agreement signed last week will impact the deal in any substantive way.

Analysts said that Iran’s executive, judicial and legislative control remains with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who will ensure continuity, but the loss of a senior leader like Mr. Raisi, who was seen as a potential successor to the Supreme Leader, the killings of IRGC top General Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. in 2020 as well as top Generals killed in Damascus this April, when Israel is believed to have bombed the Iranian embassy, will have some impact on Iran’s strategic capabilities as well, and New Delhi will watch keenly, as the situation in the region develops. READ COMMENTSREAD LATERPRINT

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by The Kashmir Monitor staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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