Abdul Bari Masoud
NEW DELHI—Iranian ambassador Iraj Elahi has said that normalising ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia will contribute to greater regional security and stability in the Middle East. , Therefore, India shouldn’t be concerned about Chinese mediation.
While interacting with a select group of journalists for the first time following the agreement for the resumption of diplomatic relations between Tehran and Riyadh at the Islamic Republic of Iran embassy, the Iranian envoy said both Saudi Arabia and Iran are pillars of the Islamic world.
Responding to this correspondent’s question on the impact of a thaw between both countries, the envoy emphasized that since Iran and Saudi Arabia are the major pillars of the Muslim world, the accord will have an impact on many facets of the area, including security, the economy, and culture.
“Saudi Arabia is a leading country in the Sunni world; Iran is a leading nation in the Shia world. So it will affect the region positively,” he said.
When asked about the conflict in Yemen, where Teheran supports the Houthi militia and Riyadh supports the coalition government with military backing, he quipped that everything would be settled in the end.
In response to another question, the Iranian envoy dismissed any softening approach toward Israel. Israel, he claimed, is an occupying power on Palestinian territory. How can an occupant be recognised? He also rejected a two-state solution to this oldest conflict in the region, stating that it is not based on parity and equality.
It is to be noted that the Israeli embassy in Tehran was turned over to the Palestine Liberation Organization as a symbol of Iran’s decision to sever ties with Israel and support the Palestinian cause after the Islamic revolution in February 1979.
During the Shah regime, Israel and Iran kept close ties ever since the creation of Israel in May 1948.
Referring to India’s concerns over China’s role, Elahi said, “The resumption of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia would benefit India since it helps [strengthen] stability and peace in the region and security in the Persian Gulf.”
A trilateral announcement on the agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia for resuming diplomatic relations that were severed in 2016 was made last week after China hosted the previously undisclosed discussions between top Saudi and Iranian security officials. Countries in Asia and the Middle East were caught off guard by the news.
Elahi claimed Iran kept the negotiations under wraps out of fear of a “third factor” (obviously referring to the US).
Despite [the agreement being achieved with] the mediation of China, he said, “It would be in the interest of India because a substantial portion of the Indian diaspora is in the Persian Gulf countries. So it is not a concern for India, in my opinion.”
He further pointed out that China is a global power “competing with the US” while India is a rising power set to become the third largest economy.
“India can easily and calmly improve its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states without any concern,” he asserted.
Elahi added that Chabahar port should be viewed within the framework of the “strategic partnership” between India and Iran and that cooperation on the project is based on three criteria: building the port, connecting it to Iran’s rail network, and asking the Indian side to send more cargo through the port.
However, he stated that Iran started building the rail link between Zahedan and Chabahar on its own after waiting for India to help and adding that certain equipment installed by India had yet to be operational.
“We believe the Indian government has a positive approach towards Iran and Chabahar. However, there are shortcomings from both sides. The speed of cooperation, progress and promotion should be very fast, faster than what it is now,” he underlined.
The Iranian envoy also urged India to resume its imports of Iranian oil while defying Western pressure, exactly as New Delhi has done about its refusal to buy Russian crude.
“India is not Taiwan. India is not South Korea. India could easily resist the West as it has resisted over buying oil from Russia,” Envoy Elahi said, adding Iran has also created systems for money transfers and oil exports that enable it to deal with sanctions.
Due to the threat of US secondary sanctions, India stopped importing Iranian oil in 2019.
Why did Iran not ask India to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh? He replied that India had not offered to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. “No one approached and talked about this issue with Iran. No one from India expressed willingness to bridge with Saudi Arabia. If it were mentioned before, we would have welcomed this,” the Iranian envoy remarked.
It is mentioned that India has responded cautiously to the Iran-Saudi agreement, claiming that New Delhi has consistently pushed for negotiation and diplomacy to settle disputes.
The envoy also touched upon the situation in Afghanistan, stating that Tehran permitted Taliban-appointed diplomats to assume control of the Afghan embassy in Tehran last month.
The Iranian representative argued that the need to provide essential services, like issuing passports, for the five million Afghan nationals who had fled Afghanistan had prompted it.
“The foreign ministry in Afghanistan was not supporting the embassy in Iran. So we paid attention to the reality,” said Elahi.
He added that there were conditions for the takeover, but he denied that it recognised the Taliban government. It is prohibited to replace the flag flying atop the embassy.
Admitting that Iran and India also have similar concerns about Afghanistan, Elahi pointed out that India doesn’t need to go on the same path as Iran vis-à-vis engagement with the Taliban as New Delhi doesn’t face the same pressures about borders and refugees. “You do not have our problems,” he commented.
On the nuclear issue, the Iranian envoy also made it clear that Tehran has no ambition to develop nuclear weapons despite it acquired the know-how of technology. He also expressed the hope that everything would settle in the coming days.