Trilateral of Iran, Saudi Arabia and China: An Understanding of its implications for India

West Asia assumes a profound geopolitical and geo-strategic significance in India’s foreign policy and its aspirations of a global power in the emerging World Order. There has been a significant expansion and deepening of India’s ties in the region in the recent past. The Indian engagement has displayed numerous successful dimensions. The most remarkable one is its engagement with all three regional power centres- Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran and balanced approach on Israel-Palestine issue. However, the role of China in stitching this agreement is a big geopolitical step to lay foundation of its engagement for its economic interests pushing behind all other rival powers in the region. Thus, a realistic analysis of its implications for India is an urgent exercise to work out an appropriate response to re-position its strategy in the evolving geopolitical changes.

The remark of the Iran’s spokesperson, Ali Bahadori Jahromi in his tweet that “the historic agreement of Saudi-Iran negotiated in China and led entirely by Asian countries will change the dynamics of the region” has to be analysed from the perspective of India as an Asian power without any semblance of western strategy to serve its interests, enumeration of the challenges and preparation for appropriate response to keep its interests intact and their pursuits unabated.

The Trilateral marks an obvious geopolitical gains of China in the region and will have implications for India which needs careful evaluation and rework of our strategy to keep India’s presence relevant to the countries of the region particularly, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The agreement marks the end of pre-eminent geopolitical position of US as a peace maker as its unilateral policies, wars and unrealistic pursuit of democracy promotion project, violent interference in the name of war on terror and the Iraq misadventure has demolished its honest intent as a peace maker. Unlike that China is seen as an unbiased players engaged with Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia and others in the region who are keen to engage with China with equal diplomatic zest.

The agreement points to strategic marginalisation of US in the region including Saudi Arabia which are manifest in the recent Saudi-US exchanges of disagreement and divergence on policy opinion, action and expression. Needs India to engage on its own without the aligning with US policies in the region

India needs to spur its image and credibility as an individual actor in this changing geopolitical landscape in the region with appropriate use of civilizational ties, diaspora power and trade and investment prospects. Strategic re-working for balancing of our policies towards Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel in an integrated and holistic manner is warranted

The agreement seems to be a geopolitical counter-step to the Abraham Accords in intent and strategy. India needs a pragmatic re-evaluation and reset of its policies in this regard and I2U2 format which is part of the American Order vision for isolation of Iran. Besides it is part of the external power (Western/US) strategy. It is notable that exclusion of External Powers and regional solution of regional issues is the foremost foreign policy priority of revolutionary Iran. This is underscored by the remark of Wang Yi that “Middle East belongs to the people of Middle East and fate of the region should be in the hands of its people.”. This requires a prudent balancing our policy between US and Iran in particular and the region in general. The stature of US was on the wane for quite some time in the region. Its unilateral policies and action has weakened its geopolitical powers, reduced its capabilities to understand the true needs of the countries and people in the region. Therefore the United States is a very less trusted power in the region and its credibility as an honest security provider and peace maker is significantly diminished and frequently questioned and even defied.

Iran’s strategic importance for India’s Afghan Policy, Central Asia Vision and North South International Trade Corridor is paramount. In this scenario, India must devise its Iran policies beyond the US sanction policy and follow a calibrated policy to serve its interests before China gets entrenched in Iran’s strategy and policy. India needs to present a policy of reassurance and autonomous strategy outside the US shadow with strategic balanced approach to all the three-Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

China use its economic power, trading heft and even military relations to establish in the region. India is not a peer in economic strength but we can package our historic engagement and civilizational depth in consonance with the region’s aspirations of post oil economic vision, Look East Policy and technological partnership and skilled services.

There is a promising scope of India playing facilitating role in the pattern of Iran-Saudi Agreement to expand the scope and extent of cooperation and coordination to bridge other intra-Arab and intra-region issues. The Trilateral agreement is expected to find some solution of the Yemen crisis as Iran and Saudi Arabia are the regional backers of the fighting factions in that country. But differences between Saudi Arabia and UAE over Yemen and Abraham Accords needs strategic facilitation. India can leverage its close relations to bridge the differences. 

The state of Palestine situation in the coming months is crucial for determining the evolving patterns. Israel’s policy towards Palestine needs an urgent reset to retain its strategic gains of the Abraham Accords. India can leverage its relations with Israel to orient Israel’s strategy towards Palestine to a strategic moderation. Similarly, Israel’s public antagonism against Iran can be brought to strategic patience and restraint. It can create a fruitful pathway to re-position itself in Iranian strategy to balance the China’s influence in that country where India has paramount strategic interests before China gets entrenched in its strategic thinking and envelops the whole region. I am strongly optimistic about India’s prudent responses to remain a prominent geopolitical actor in this strategic extended neighbourhood.

Dr.Khushnam P N
Dr.Khushnam P N
Independent IR and Regional Security Researcher & Analyst, Bengaluru, India