WASHINGTON: The US is “watching very closely” India’s growing ties with Iran after it recently pledged USD 500 million for developing the Chabahar port and will see if its legal parameters and requirements are being met, the Obama Administration has told lawmakers.
As of now, there is no military or counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries that could be a cause of concern for the US, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a Congressional hearing.
She said the US is “watching very closely” India’s relationship with Iran.
“We also track very closely what their economic engagement is and make sure they understand what we believe are legal parameters and requirements,” Biswal said.
“With respect to the announcement in the Chabahar port, we have been very clear with the Indians on what we believe are the continuing restrictions on the activities with respect to Iran and what we have done,” she said.
She was responding to a question on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Iran visit from Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.
Modi’s visit, that saw the signing of a bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar port for which India will invest USD 500 million, came months after the lifting of international sanctions on Iran following Tehran’s historic nuclear deal with the Western powers over its contentious atomic programme.
“Obviously nothing appears to be in violations of our agreements. But how do we see India as partner in fighting extremism and financing terrorism?” Cardin said as he expressed concerns that India’s economic relationship with Iran would further boost Tehran’s alleged activities to support various terrorist groups.
She said that India’s burgeoning ties with Iran are driven by ever growing energy needs and using the Persian Gulf nation as a gateway into Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Biswal in her answer said that “they (Indians) have been very responsive and receptive to our briefings, to what we believe the line is. And we have to examine the details of the Chabahar announcement to see where it falls in that place.
“But with respect to India’s relationship with Iran, which I do believe is primarily focused on economics and energy issues, we do recognise that from the Indian perspective that Iran represents for India a gateway into Afghanistan and Central Asia.”
“For India to be able to contribute to the economic development of Afghanistan, it needs access that it does not readily have across its land boundary. And India is seeking to deepen its energy relationship with the Central Asian countries and looking for routes that would facilitate that.
“That said we have been very clear with the Indians what our security concerns have been and we would continue to engage them on those issues,” said the US official.
Cardin said: “I just hope that we are getting candid discussions. Economic issues, I understand. But if it is also be used as a way to increase their capacity to support terrorism, we need to know that we have a reliable partner in India in fighting terrorism. I assume those candid discussions are taking place.”
“They are absolutely,” Biswal responded, adding that India has been consistent partner of the US even when it has adversely impacted its economic interest.
“But some of these 12 agreements that (India) just signed with Iran have to do with increased trade between the two countries,” Senator David Perdue from Georgia rued.
Referring to the Iranian agreement, Biswal said now some of the activities are permissible, which earlier were prohibited.
“We do not have the details yet of the agreements that have been signed and we will work to engage with our Indian counterparts to better understand the specific details,” she said.–PTI