The Iran Conundrum

Ambassador Frank G. Wisner and Srinath Raghavan

Ambassador Frank G. Wisner and Srinath Raghavan

MUMBAI: On December 3, 2018, Asia Society India Centre hosted Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, International Affairs Advisor at Squire Patton Boggs and former U.S. Ambassador to India for a conversation with Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research on the current state of relations between the United States of America (USA), India and Iran and the way forward for these countries.

The programme began with remarks by Ambassador Wisner where he highlighted certain events in the recent past that have set the stage for the present condition of relations between Iran, India and USA. On the cancellation of the Iran Nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by US President Donald Trump, Wisner said that he did not believe it to be a good policy decision as it indicated that the US leadership went back on its own words and against its allies. He stated that the problem, however, does not solely lie in Washington but Tehran too, as Iran has continued to engage in the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Palestine, and has made no efforts to improve its poor human rights record. Certain unambiguous points and loopholes in the JCPOA have also posed a challenge to the US leadership. While it is still unclear whether the objective of the Trump administration is to change the Iranian government or influence its behaviour, the collateral damage of American actions has been faced by many countries including India and has even strained the India-US economic relationship.

Raghavan opened the discussion with some observations on past American interventions in the Middle-East and questioned Wisner on current US policies in the region along with the stance of the Trump administration on the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. While stating that he did not agree with the current policies, Wisner vouched for a middle path that would retain peace between the two competing powers and subdue the external players in the region. When asked about the efficiency of US sanctions on Iran, Wisner said that while there has been an effect on Iran’s economy, behavioural change in the administration would only be seen if the country itself makes a fundamental political decision and moves away from its strong conservative ideology. He spoke of how Iran had continued to develop its nuclear programme despite stringent sanctions in 2003, as a prime example of its resistance to US pressure. He further went on to say that while Iran would continue to abide by the rules of the JCPOA, further US restrictions on European banks dealing with Iran could create issues in the future, not just for Tehran but for other countries as well.  

The speakers later fielded questions from the audience ranging from oil prices, threats posed by terror groups and the role of China and Russia in the Iran-US conflict.

As reported by Deepashree Mahajan, Programme Assistant, Asia Society India Centre