India has been a helpless, hapless bystander to the Iranian nuclear dispute for the past ten years.
Unlike, say, Turkey, India has played no part in the various rounds of negotiation with Iran. It has watched as its substantial oil imports from Iran have shrunk under pressure from sanctions, and as US-Iran hostility has made it harder and more awkward to work with Tehranon areas of mutual concern like Afghanistan.
The Geneva agreement, which freezes Iran's nuclear program for six months while a longer deal is hammered out, was therefore welcomed in Delhi, which hosted Iran's deputy foreign minister on Tuesday.
Most significant for India is that Iran will be allowed to maintain current levels of oil exports, EU insurance sanctions on those exports will be suspended, and India might finally be able to pay Iran some of the US$5.3 billon it owes. By one estimate, this could boost Iran's exports to India by 200,000 to 400,000 barrels per day.
The Indian Express also noted that India’s National Security Advisor had ‘ticked off external affairs ministry officials for plodding their feet on economic projects in Iran’, including the development of the Chabahar port, which connects India to Afghanistan, but has progressed at a crawl.
But not everything is rosy.
The Times of India fretted that 'India's appeal as a customer will wane', and imports might get more expensive as rupee payments stop in favour of dollar payments. The paper also quoted 'sources' as saying that 'India will need to balance relations with an emergent Iran looking to trade its nuclear programme for strategic dividends with its interests in Arab states that host an estimated seven million Indians', an issue that has particular edge after Saudi Arabia's recent mass expulsion of Indian labourers.
India will be watching carefully for the diplomatic spillover from the nuclear deal. Syria will be the first trial, but Afghanistan — where Iran is wary of the recent US-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement — will be the bigger test.
Photo by Flickr user IFPRI-IMAGES.