News Analysis | India’s health diplomacy cannot ignore Iran

Members of firefighters wear protective face masks, amid fear of coronavirus disease, as they disinfect the streets, ahead of the Iranian New Year Nowruz, March 20, in Tehran, Iran.   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Energy rich Iran, reeling under the Covid-19 onslaught and sanctions marshaled by the United States, is testing India’s diplomatic guile, of maintaining its core strategic interests with a pivotal state in the Eurasian heartland.

On Monday, Coronavirus cases had jumped to 23,049, with 127 new deaths — pairing Iran with Italy, Spain and China, which have been worst hit.

In tune with the spiraling infections and fatalities, Iranian leaders have stepped up their campaign for the lifting of crippling U.S. sanctions which have apparently hampered the flow of essential overseas medical supplies, impeding containment of the pandemic in the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is spearheading the outreach. Foreign ministers of the European Union, Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, South Africa as well as the U.N. Secretary General, have been tapped over the last week for providing humanitarian assistance, as well as the lifting of sanctions re-imposed against Iran by the Trump administration.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has slammed Washington’s assertion that is not curtailing the transfer of drugs, pointing out that Washington is interfering with the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) — a mechanism that would allow Tehran to access vital medical and humanitarian supplies from Switzerland under the supervision of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Iran has approached India for essential medical support. On March 12, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Ravish Kumar confirmed that Iran and Italy were among the countries which had sought India’s assistance, and their request was “under process”. “ Please try to understand, you know, we can only spare items, which we have at this point of time and accordingly based on the request and based on the availability of such items, packages has been put, ” Mr. Kumar said.

Interactive map of confirmed coronavirus cases in India

So far, Iranian officials have lavishly praised China for its support during the outbreak. Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri as saying that “the humanitarian moves exhibited by China, while it was struggling with the outbreak of this dangerous disease itself, have drawn the admiration of everyone.”

“On behalf of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I express gratitude to the Chinese people, government and Armed Forces for their goodwill, benevolence and health and medical aids for controlling and countering the coronavirus,” the senior Iranian commander observed.

Iranian media has also praised Japan not only for offering cash donations, but also the Avigan (Favipiravir) drug, which has apparently shown promising results during clinical trials for treating the infection in China. Mr. Zarif has also thanked Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan for exhorting the U.S. to lift sanctions against Iran, in the wake of the pandemic. India, so far is missing from the list of countries to which Iran has publicly expressed gratitude.

Analysts point out that despite its limitations, and commitment to SAARC neighbours to combat the disease, India also needs to be sensitive to Iran’s pressing requirements, as part of its effort to champion Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) in the region. Iran is an energy powerhouse. Despite minimising its oil imports, in the backdrop of Washington’s emergence as an enerergy supplier and other geopolitical factors, Iran is India’s long term partner in oil and gas. It is also India’s gateway to Eurasia, via Afghanistan and Central Asia through the India-run Iranian port of Chabahar.

Besides, Iran is at the heart of the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC) — a 7,200-km-long network of ship, rail, and road route for used for transporting goods between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe. Iran is also a major player in Afghanistan — a role that it is expected to assert on account of its deep nodes both within the Hazara community in central Afghanistan as well as factions within the Taliban, which are not all backed by Pakistan. In the past, India had worked closely and profitably with Iran, Russia and Central Asian countries, as a vacuum developed in 2001 after the collapse of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Kabul.

Ideologically, Iran is a major player among Shia Muslims, with significant concentrations across the globe including India, Afghanistan Pakistan, and the Arab world, including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 7:46:55 AM |

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