Edited Excerpts from an interview
The nuclear deal between Iran and P5+1 (five United Nations Security Council members — the US, the UK, Russia, France and China — and Germany) is seen as a historic breakthrough. In your estimation, what does it mean for Iran, the region and the world?
It is a great, historic event. If you take a conceptual approach to this event, it took place at a time when some difficult problems confront the world at large and in a region full of ambiguities and misunderstandings and it took place after three very difficult and destructive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. So, from this point of view, resolving the complicated and difficult (nuclear) issue is a great achievement and triumph of diplomacy. It can be a turning point in our region as well.
I believe that military and coercive approaches in West Asia have reached their end. We can’t go ahead in the region with military and coercive means and maybe this was why the Americans and the Europeans came to the negotiating table. nato went to Afghanistan for 10 years and it was a complete failure. The US and its allies went to Iraq and again it was a failure and very destructive. Same thing happened in Libya and nobody knows the destiny of these innocent people after such devastating interventions by the US and its allies. So it was a must for the Americans and the Europeans to find a new way out of this new problem and diplomacy was the only way. At the same time, from an Iranian perspective, we were for negotiations from the beginning; we were emphasising that the problems in the region must be solved through political negotiations. This is also what we offered for Syria, Yemen and for all conflicts in our region.
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So, all things considered, it (nuclear deal) was a great event for our region and we hope that in future this will be seen as an exemplary approach for [dealing with] other conflicts, misunderstandings and confusions. We hope this is a new era for Iran to bring other countries in the region to sit, discuss and come out of all such problems, for example, in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
The nuclear deal will definitely affect our region. Maybe this was the first time that a developing country is going out of Chapter VII of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) without a war and going out of Chapter VII through diplomacy. Again, maybe it is very unique after World War-II that a developing country is able to fulfil its rights through diplomacy. It can be a milestone, a turning point in the international arena as well.
India-Iran relations over the past decade or more can be described as a rollercoaster. How would you describe the current state of the bilateral relations?
Iran is the first country which will benefit from stability in West Asia. Iran’s geographical situation, natural resources and its capable manpower are all potentials which give Iran a great opportunity to work towards stability and tranquility in the region. We are for stability. In recent decades, one of the big obstacles was the nuclear issue, which was one of the top priorities. Now, with this obstacle removed, a new era is emerging. We think a great potential can be released. Iran used to be under sanctions for over 30 years. Now, the atmosphere of sanctions is over; at least the superpowers came to the conclusion that these sanctions cannot work. [In this changed situation,] a new era is also emerging for Iran’s neighbours. We consider India as a neighbour, too. From Chabahar port in Iran to Mundra port in Gujarat, India, is about 950 kilometres, which is less than the distance between Mumbai and New Delhi.
There exists great potential for Iran and India to cooperate. First, Iran and India have historical links, which provides scope for more cooperation. Second, India was very helpful and very friendly to Iran during the decades of sanctions. India used to be one of the big customers of Iranian oil and non-oil commodities. The bilateral trade was worth about 15 billion dollars even when the sanctions were in force, which is great. It shows that the natural capacity [for bilateral trade] is very high. And now with the obstacle of sanctions removed and with two very energetic governments in office in Iran and India under President Rouhani and Prime Minister Modi, respectively, there are commonalities in their approaches. Connectivity is the motto of Mr Modi and it is the same for Mr Rouhani, too. Iran is keen to share prosperity with all, including its neighbours; the same is the case with India. India’s access to Central Asia, Afghanistan, Russia, the Caucasus and even Turkey and North Europe is easier, cheaper and safer through Iran. So, one of the main areas of cooperation between Iran and India is connectivity. Indians are the best end-user of a good transportation network in Iran. The ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas and the International North South Transport Corridor project give the best access for India to Central Asia, Afghanistan and beyond.
One of the blessings of the sanctions for Iran was that we realised the great capabilities of our neighbours. Before the sanctions, we were the seller of oil to India and received money for it in Germany but the sanctions brought us closer together. India was familiar with Iran’s capability while Iranian businesses benefited from Indian expertise in steel, aluminium, railway, etc. During the sanctions, one of the advantages for trade was that Iran had a lot of money here, so there was no difficulty in transacting money. Another advantage was that in 2014 India offered a line of credit, without any ceiling, for projects in Iran. The demand for development of ports, railways and airports in Iran can be available to the Indians. We will be delighted to talk to capable Indian companies and the Indian Government to give advantage to them for projects worth billions of dollars in a safe country with the best record since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. No company can claim that Iran deprived them of even one dollar. Iran has a clean, honourable record of doing business.
Now the ground is completely paved for Indians to take the advantage and expedite their efforts for big deals in energy and connectivity. Iran is one of the biggest producers of oil and gas and all downstream products such as petrochemicals and fertilisers. India is the biggest market for all these commodities. We can do big projects together and invest in construction, etc, using the credit line. [The time for it is] now because if European companies come with cheap Euros, then it will be very difficult for Indian companies to compete with them. That is the reality of life but because the Europeans cut all their links with Iran during the sanctions and they are not very familiar with today’s market in Iran, they will take some time to re-establish ties with Iran but Indians used to work with Iran during the sanctions.
There are a lot of commonalities (between Iran and India) in the political life of the region. The security of waterways, be it Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean, is crucial for Iran and India. The security in Central Asia and Afghanistan is important for Iran and India. So, politically, culturally and economically, it is very natural for Iran and India to cooperate. There is trust and confidence between Iran and India, so the potential for cooperation is there. Recently, Mr Rouhani and Mr Modi met on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit at Ufa in Russia; it was a very good and encouraging meeting for the relationship.