Despite some concerns expressed by a few Senators last week, the Obama Administration has not expressed any objection to the recent signing of a pact by India and Iran to develop the Chabahar port, a top US think-tank expert has said.
“Because it is so important for both India and Iran, the project would continue irrespective of what the US says,”Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said yesterday.
“I do not believe that the Administration has complained in any way about the Indian investment in Chabahar,” Tellis told a group of White House reporters during a briefing ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit next week.
“My sense is that there are certainly Senators and constituencies on the Hill that are concerned about what that means, particularly not only for the bilateral relationship between India and Iran, but what that means for strengthening the Iranian regime and particularly some of its agenda that may not be helpful,” he said in response to a question.
But this is one area where India has demonstrated “enormous amount of independence” right from the beginning.
“I think, our ability to constrain India from moving ahead of that deal is extremely low. The Indians and the Iranians have a joint interest in proving an alternative line of communication to Afghanistan and Central Asia, beyond the current line that goes through Pakistan,” he noted.
Responding to a question, Tellis said the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour sent a signal to Pakistan that the US is willing to do certain things unilaterally, if Islamabad does not play a more forward leaning role.
“Whether this represents the beginning of a shift in US policy towards Pakistan, I think, it is too early to tell,” he said, adding that the Americans have now reached the conclusion that there are limits to which they can reassure the Pakistanis about Indian activities in Afghanistan.
They tried to lean on the Indians to restrain them from being too forward leaning.
But at this juncture, with the Pakistanis not delivering in a way the US wants to the Obama Administration is unlikely to ask India to restrain its developmental activities in Afghanistan, he said.
According to Tellis, Modi wants the relationship with the US for the benefit of India and not necessarily because he thinks it requires over-the-top endorsement of US policies.
“He is not going to be a cheerleader for the United States. That’s for sure,” he said.
In South China Sea, Modi is open to doing things unilaterally, because that speaks to India’s interest in freedom of navigation, he said.
“He is willing to do that and I think you will see Indian activity not only in South China Sea but all the way to Sea of Japan in the years to come,” he added.
Modi sees it very important from India’s interest to build a second layer of ties outside the US, which may involve ties with US partners, Tellis said.