US backs India-Iran Chabahar port deal despite residual suspicion over Tehran
WASHINGTON: The Obama administration on Tuesday batted for India with regards to New Delhi's energy initiative with Iran and Afghanistan via Chabahar,
amid residual suspicion and misgivings among some lawmakers whether there could be a strategic and military dimension to the tripartite agreement.
US senators closely examined assistant secretary of state for South Asia Nisha Desai Biswal on the Chabahar deal during a hearing, but the official said Washington recognized that from New Delhi's perspective that Iran represents a gateway into Afghanistan and Central Asia. She had not seen any sign of Indian engagement with Tehran in areas such as military cooperation, which might be of concern to the United States, she added."For India to be able to contribute to the economic development of Afghanistan, it needs access that it does not readily have across its land boundary.
And India is seeking to deepen its energy relationship with the Central Asian countries and looking for routes that would facilitate that," Desai-Biswal told the Senate foreign relations committee, assuring members that the Obama administration has been "very clear with the Indians what our security concerns have been and we would continue to engage them on those issues.""They (Indians) have been very responsive and receptive to our briefings, to what we believe the lines are. And we have to examine the details of the Chabahar announcement to see where it falls in that place,"
Given President Barack Obama's own outreach towards Iran and US difficulty in maintaining a toe-hold in landlocked Afghanistan because of its problems with Pakistan, Washington is broadly supportive of the Chabahar deal,
particularly since it outflanks the China-Pakistan axis in neighboring Gwadar. But such is the reflexive suspicion in US over Iran, often stimulated by the so-called Israeli lobby, that many lawmakers still have reservations about any deal with Tehran.
While some senators wanted to know if the deal to develop the Chabahar port violated any sanctions against Iran, others wanted to know if India was ready to sign a formal security cooperation agreement with the US during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Washington next month. India and the United States have already strengthened their security cooperation in several areas and ''We're looking at what additional areas we can engage in to deepen that cooperation," Biswal replied cautiously.
The pow-wow over India-Iran relations came amid a precipitous slide in US-Pakistan ties over the drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mulla Mansour, purportedly while he was returning from Iran under the impression that Pakistan had bought an insurance for him against drone strikes because he was a key figure in talks.
But US officials said he was taken out because he was an obstacle to peace.
"Mansour represented an effort to rekindle the war, rekindle the conflict, re-stoke the violence in Afghanistan, and was not interested in pursuing peace. We believe that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process is the way ultimately to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan,
" state department spokesman Mark Toner said.Pakistan's de facto military ruler Raheel Sharif
also jumped into the fray on Tuesday, summoning US ambassador to Islamabad David Hale to the GHQ and warning that Pakistan-US ties would be affected, even as the Pakistani media has been kvetching about why Mansour was killed only after entering Pakistan
and now while he was more accessible while traveling freely in the Gulf.
TV anchors have been working up a lather wondering if Iran sold him down the drain,
even as some Pakistani commentators have been marveling at India's ability to strike a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, something Pakistan has been unable to do.
On its part, the Obama administration has pretty much said it will continue to attack terrorist targets in Pakistan if they don't sue for peace and Islamabad and Rawalpindi can stuff it if does not like it.QUESTION:
Do you trust Pakistan when it comes to war against terrorism?
State department spokesman Mark Toner: I think that we have been very clear-eyed and very clear in our interaction with Pakistan where we've believed that they need to do more to root out terrorists, as I said, who find safe haven on some of their territory,
and we're going to continue to do that. I'll leave it there.QUESTION:
But is it fair to say, given that you didn't inform Pakistan before the attack, that you do not trust them on these sensitive issues?
Toner: Again, I think what I said just now holds, which is that operational security trumps a need to inform other governments