In March 2010, the Center for Land Warfare studies published a piece I wrote, “Can India Facilitate a US-Iranian Rapprochement?” as an Issue Brief, available here.
Here’s an outline of the arguments:
Iran, the United States, and India share a number of strategic aims in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Among these are: (1) Opening a secure, supply line from southeastern Iran to Afghanistan to serve as an alternative to Pakistan-based routes. These communication lines would decrease Afghanistan’s reliance on a recalcitrant and volatile Islamabad; (2) Bringing Afghan warlords in Iran’s sphere of influence into the political process toward a stabilized Afghanistan; (3) Countering Sunni extremists such Al Qaeda and diminishing the influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan; and (4) Managing, curtailing, and providing alternatives to Afghan opium cultivation; (5) facilitating a transition to a peaceful, stable Iraq; (6) facilitating a transition to a just, two-state solution in the Levant; and (7) limiting Chinese (and to a degree, Russian) influence in Central Asia and the Middle East.
There is potential economic convergence between Indian, Iranian, and American companies. These points of convergence include: (1) Upgrading Iran’s hydrocarbons and transport infrastructure, which remains largely unaltered since the mid-twentieth century; and (2) Using Iran’s existing energy infrastructure to access Central Asian energy resources, rather than investing billions of dollars to stabilize the adjacent regions and construct multi-country pipelines that circumvent Iran.
Political enmity between the United States and Iran has impeded the realization of these shared objectives, implicating US-India, India-Iran, and of course US-Iranian bilateral relations. This mutual enmity has at its source (1) American anger at Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution; (2) Israel’s strategic competition with Iran and Israel’s perceived need for a common Iranian enemy to maintain its ‘special relationship’ with the United States; (3)American non-recognition of Iran’s strategic importance; (4) American economic sanctions on Iran; (5) American threats of regime change in Tehran; (6) Iranian support for terrorism and rejectionist groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine; (7) Iranian interference in the political processes of Iraq and Afghanistan; (8) Iranian strategic and military threats to Israel and the Gulf Arab countries; and (9) Iran’s opaque nuclear and nonconventional weapons programs. All of these sore points emanate from political and emotional enmity, not strategic divergence.
Given the interconnectivity of many of these issues, piecemeal diplomatic initiatives to resolve them in isolation are bound to fail; each issue can be used by both the US and Iran as a bargaining chip at one point and a threat at another. Thus, only a broad-based strategic understanding in which all of the outstanding bilateral differences between the two countries would be resolved as a package would work. At this juncture, however, both Washington and Tehran are unwilling to make such broad gestures, and are trapped in a debilitating stalemate.
India, as a credible arbiter with a strategic partnership with the United States and strong potential for economic and strategic convergence with Iran, must facilitate a rapprochement based on mutual benefits. These include: (1) Cessation of US-Iranian political enmity; (2) Transparency in Iran’s nuclear program; (3) Indian and American investment in Iranian transport and hydrocarbon infrastructure; (4) US-Indo-Iranian economic partnership (IPI pipeline, hydrocarbons trade); (5) Trilateral cooperation vis-à-vis Afghanistan; (6)US disengagement from anti-Iranian activities; (7) Iranian disengagement from support for terrorism; (8) US-Iranian coordination in Iraq and the Levant; (9) US-Indo-Iranian cooperation in nuclear energy production; (10) US-Indo-Iranian strategic cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Central Asia.
The piece addresses some of the challenges to such a rapprochement—political psychologies, nuclear proliferation, Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and democracy in Iran—but argues that an India-facilitated detente is ultimately the missing piece of the puzzle that would resolve these regional and global challenges.