Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid visited Tehran last weekend to attend the 17th meeting of the India-Iran Joint Commission. Though the most surprising outcome of the visit was the agreement on a common diplomatic initiative for resolving the Syrian crisis, a number of other agreements, including for the expansion of the strategically important Chabahar port on the Arabian Sea, signal a closer alignment on a more critical geopolitical interest that the two sides share: ensuring long-term stability in Afghanistan. Clearly the scheduled U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is driving a new diplomatic engagement between India and Iran.
Contrast this week’s outcome to the March visit to New Delhi by the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, who declared at the time that the two countries had developed some “major differences.”
If a chill had settled on India-Iran relations, it was largely due to adjustments New Delhi had made to its approach to the Iranian nuclear program. At the behest of the U.S., India voted at the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council. It reduced its oil imports from Tehran considerably, even though Iran had been one of India’s principal sources of crude for decades. It also extricated itself from the long-discussed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, which many in Delhi saw as the solution to India’s energy insecurity, instead resting its hopes in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline project, the completion of which still seems a distant dream.