Richard Fontaine discusses how U.S. sanctions on Iran are creating tensions in the U.S.-India relationship:

Thus far, Washington and New Delhi have chosen to emphasize the areas of agreement – the IAEA votes, their shared opposition to an Iranian nuclear weapon – and downplay the disagreement on how to achieve that objective. But with the issue heating up in Washington and other world capitals, and with the new U.S. sanctions poised to go into effect, there’s the danger of a real impasse. Members of the U.S. Congress will be dismayed if India appears to stand outside a concerted international effort to press Iran at a critical inflection point. Members of the Indian parliament, for their part, will not particularly appreciate being publicly goaded to get tough on Iran.

The collateral damage could be the U.S.-India relationship. A falling out over Iran could infect other elements of the budding strategic partnership, and make everything else – from trade to defense cooperation to diplomatic coordination – more difficult.

I alluded to India’s economic relationship with Iran in my new column and in previous posts, and Fontaine describes the ties between the two states in more detail. This raises a question: why is the U.S. risking damage to a much more strategically valuable relationship with India for the sake of an obsession with the Iranian nuclear program?

Fontaine proposes cooperation between the U.S. and India on Iran:

A genuine partnership on this issue might see India using its unique role to carry messages to the Iranian leadership and provide insights about Iranian behavior to the American side, while the United States works with New Delhi to pressure Iran on a variety of fronts.

How does it help the U.S.-Indian relationship to require India to do more than it is already doing to pressure Iran? What incentive are we going to give the Indians to make additional pressure on Iran seem worthwhile? The current Congress-led government has already gone out on a limb for the sake of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, which has run into its own problems regarding India’s liability law, and it will need to be able to deliver something that the U.S. gives it in exchange for its help. Closer ties with India make a great deal of sense, so why risk jeopardizing them over this?

The Indians have already seen how unique mediating roles have been dismissed and ignored by the U.S. when the mediators reached a deal that the U.S. didn’t like. Slapping down Turkey and Brazil in 2010 had the effect that there probably aren’t going to be other governments interested in having their closer relationship with Iran used in this way. Why is it in India’s interest to disrupt one of their more important regional relationships? Would the U.S. do the same for India if it made similar requests regarding Pakistan? Unless the answer to that last question is yes, I fail to see why India would cooperate.

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