Colourful diplomatic rhetoric usually hides the lack of substance in a high-level exchange or, worse still, provides cloud cover for the negative trends in a relationship. Be alert when diplomats resort to rhetoric; there is high probability of dissimulation. This week South Block has spun some fascinating yarns to give fillip to the visit by Iranian FM Ali Akbar Salehi, including by thrusting upon our unsuspecting and well-meaning media the ancient 2-decade old tale about what India wanted to do with Iran since 1989 (and still probably does) but simply lacked the efficiency or the wherewithal or the sheer grit to do — the so-called North-South Corridor connecting India with the El Dorado of Central Asia and its vast Russian hinterland. We are at a point today that whenever the N-S Corridor is resurrected, make a note that the policymaker in South Block is desperately gasping for air and ideas to carry forward India’s relationship with Iran.
Strangely, the rhetoric about Salehi is all ours. Tehran is uncharacteristically silent. In the usual course, it transparently and faithfully renders accounts of its high level exchanges with India, including when we try to keep a tight lid and exercise press censorship — such as when President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad phoned up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently on the eve of India signing up on the TAPI gas pipeline, or, just like when he did on the eve of the fateful Indian vote against Iran at the IAEA in 2006.
The Salehi spin went overboard when we are told to believe that India and Iran have decided to defy Washington and carry on with their business. True, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna said some platitudes about how inter-state conduct should ideally work in the era of globalization. But that is an ideal. How does the articulation of an ideal become a “snub” to Washington?
A snub to a be snub, PM should accept Ahmedinejad’s invitation and visit Tehran in August to attend the NAM summit. This was after all the purpose of Salehi’s visit. For the snub to be a “real” snub, PM should alongside undertake a bilateral visit to Iran. Will he or won’t he, that is the question. Well, he has been all over the GCC states, but never thought of a visit to Iran.
How bad is the India-Iran relationship today is apparent from the fact that it took two full working days for the two sides to discuss pending consular issues. It’s a tell-tale sign. Consular ties get jammed when debris falls from the decaying architecture of the relationship, and mistrust develops.
At any rate, EAM’s “snub” to the US has been ably trumped by our ambassador in Washington who insists that the US should jettison misperceptions that India is not heeding the US’ demarches about ties with Iran. Who does one believe — EAM or the ambassador? I’d any day believe the ambassador who is a first rate pro — and a former Foreign Secretary at that — who is seeing things 24×7 from the inside track.
So, what is happening? The clue lies in the scheduling of Salehi’s visit just before the US-India Strategic Dialogue meet in Washington on June 13. The “pro-Iran” rhetoric is supposed to resonate so that the wind carries it across the Atlantic. So that, out there, the naive diplomats in Faggy Bottom develop anxieties about what the Indians could be up to. In turn, they might ponder placating the restive Indians. Maybe, at the June 13 meet, some carrots could be offered to the Indians to nibble? A membership of the Wassenaar Arrangement since the Nuclear Supply Group door can’t yet be opened? Put plainly, South Block seems to be once again leveraging Iran to extract concessions form the US. I hope I am wrong.
– June 1, 2012