Indian companies' reliance on Iranian oil has New Delhi in a tough spot. But Washington would do well to consider a long-term scenario in which India is its most powerful ally in Asia and Iran has its nuclear weapons anyway.
According to a thoughtful editorial in the Indian Express from Pranab Dhal Samanta, India has to convince the U.S. to grant it an exemption from the sanction on Iranian oil purchases because – unlike Japan, China and South Korea – it has failed to set up a barter system to bypass Washington's moratorium on “significant financial transactions” with Iran.
To make that happen, India will need to play hardball, laying out the costs of what its gradual disengagement with Iran would mean for post-war Afghanistan. Since the U.S. has failed to convince Pakistan to allow India access to Afghanistan through its territory, Samanta points out, New Delhi's estrangement from Tehran would potentially close it out of the post-war rebuilding effort. Moreover, it would make China – which, again, has already figured a work-around for the sanctions -- “almost indispensable” to Iran.
Think India's “strategic partnership” with the U.S. means everything? As Sadanand Dhume argues in another editorial in the Wall Street Journal, New Delhi faces a real dilemma.
“An India that uses its oil purchases and diplomatic clout to create breathing room for Iran risks scuppering the notion New Delhi has benefited from for more than a decade: that India's rise is beneficial to the West,” Dhume writes. “By contrast, should India throw its weight behind a powerful anti-Iran coalition, it stands to gain by halting the further nuclearization of its neighborhood, blunting the spread of radical Islam and bolstering its credentials as a force for stability.”
That said, strategic partnership notwithstanding, India has a knee-jerk tendency to oppose the U.S. and “policy makers in Washington don't see Iran as an issue where friends can agree to disagree,” according to Dhume. So the strategic partnership may be in for some couples counseling.
Here's a suggestion for the first therapy session: Be realistic. Short of an unaffordable and unpopular invasion, it looks as though the U.S. can do little to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon eventually. That horse bolted when Washington ordered its ill-considered invasion of Iraq, and then formed a lucrative military alliance with Pakistan. The lesson was clear: If you don't have nuclear weapons now, get them soon.