Trumpian sanctions, Iran and India’s 56-inch approach to foreign policy

20 November 2018
The US president Donald Trump enforced economic sanctions on Iran with exemptions for eight nations, sections of the Indian administrative machinery hailed the prime minister Narendra Modi for getting the waiver not only for India, but also for others.
Cheriss May/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The much-bruited about US sanctions on Iran and those who dare to do business with it have come into force on 5 November this year, 180 days after the US president, Donald Trump, walked out of the nuclear deal with Iran, agreed to by Barak Obama in 2015. As part of the new sanctions regime, the US will be “granting exemptions” to China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Turkey. Announcing the sanctions and waivers, the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo said that, “Each of them has already demonstrated significant reductions of the purchase of Iranian crude over the past six months, and two of those eight have already completely ended imports of Iranian crude and will not resume as long as the sanctions remain.” Pompeo further elaborated that the US “objective is to starve the Iranian regime of the revenue it uses to fund violent and destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East, and indeed around the world. Our ultimate goal is to convince the regime to abandon its current revolutionary course.” It is significant that Pompeo did not indicate the time frame for reducing Iran's oil exports to zero. The reason is that the US's capacity to enforce its national interest on countries across the world varies.

Where does India stand as far as US's clout to intimidate is concerned? The minister of petroleum and natural gas, Dharmendra Pradhan, has praised the prime minister Narendra Modi for getting the waiver not only for India, but also for others. Sycophancy is an Indian specialty.

India failed to avail its 56-inch confidence and its diplomacy with regard to the Iran sanctions has been lamentably immature. The day Trump was declared president, India should have figured out a strategy for the likely action he might take against Iran. As candidate, Trump had made his intentions clear. Even before Trump walked into the White House, India should have secretly offered Iran a bargain to continue with imports, despite US sanctions against CIF [Cost, Insurance and Freight] delivery and deep discounts. This would have also ensured that India alone decides when and how to reveal the deal and Iran would have accepted the offer. As Washington signalled that it was about to walk out of the nuclear deal, India should have told the US, discreetly but firmly, that it would continue to buy crude oil from Iran and go ahead with the Chabahar project — a strategic Iranian port being developed by India. However, India would be prepared to go through the charade of waivers if US wished. In short, the waivers would not have been a favour that US bestows on India.

Let’s now analyse Pompeo’s statements. It’s rather ironic that he uses the word revolutionary in a pejorative sense considering that we all admire the American Revolution of 1776. Pompeo expects to change the behaviour of the regime. In plain English, he wants a regime change and his assessment is that the new establishment will be less hostile, and even obedient, to the US. Pompeo argued, unconvincingly, that the sanctions were targeted against the regime and not the people. As of now, Iran will find it difficult to import even life-saving medicines as banks are scared of coming under scrutiny by the US treasury, if they deal with Iran. Here, we must remember the scale of human tragedy in Iraq due to the economic embargo between 1991 and 2003. According to Fred Halliday, former UN chief in Iraq, “between 1 million and 1.5 million Iraqis died from malnutrition or inadequate health care resulting from economic sanctions” during the Saddam Hussein regime.

Note that Trump advanced no good reason for his decision to walk out of the deal, for the good reason that he has no good reason at all. He has a visceral hatred for his predecessor, whose legacy he wants to undermine. Equally, if not more important, Trump's policy on Iran and the region is influenced more by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, than anyone else. It was Israel that repeated ad nauseum that Iran was six months away, then one month away, from acquiring a nuclear bomb, unsupported by any evidence.

KP Fabian is a professor at the Indian Society of International Law and a former Ambassador.

Keywords: Donald Trump Narendra Modi Iran Sanctions foreign policy Mike Pompeo Crude oil