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US-Iran tango | The Indian Express

If the army feels it requires continuation of the AFSPA to discharge its responsibilities, no other agency is qualified to credibly challenge that view. When he arrives at the White House on Friday,Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might find President Barack Obama preoccupied with the unexpected diplomatic opportunities that have come his way in the Middle East. After weeks of being hammered by the left and right at home for his vacillations on the use of force against Syria,Obama,in collaboration with Russian President Vladimir Putin,has managed to get a handle over the Syrian crisis. The charm offensive of Irans new president Hassan Rouhani and his offer to close the nuclear file as part of a grand bargain,have raised hopes of dampening decades of hostility between Washington and Tehran. A new American engagement with Iran could also help revive the peace process in Syria as a complement to the chemical disarmament of Damascus by the United Nations. By the time Singh sits down with Obama,the US president might have had an informal diplomatic encounter with Rouhani. The Iranian foreign minister,Javad Zarif,would also have met US Secretary of State John Kerry and other international interlocutors. By the end of the week,Obama and other leaders would be parsing the prospects for a productive nuclear negotiation with Iran. By then,Rouhani would also have spoken at the UN,offering a very different face of Iran than the one the world became accustomed to during the eight-year tenure of his predecessor,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. GAME CHANGER. If Ahmadinejad did not miss any opportunity to offend Western sensibilities,Rouhani seems determined to demonstrate that reconciliation between Iran and the US is possible. Rouhanis new flexibility comes amidst a number of factors that have the potential to alter the geopolitics of the Middle East. Putins bold diplomacy in Syria has ended Russias prolonged marginalisation in the region. Obama,who wants to avoid another debilitating American war in the Middle East,seems happy to work with Russia. Moscow is also likely to play a critical role in structuring a nuclear accommodation between Washington and Tehran. Rouhani is also seeking to arrest the gathering sectarian tensions in the region,especially between the Sunni and the Shia. He is also surely aware of the concerns that the Arab nations have that improved ties between the US and Iran will come at their expense. Rouhanis recent correspondence with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is probably the first tentative step towards the mitigation of the deepening rivalry between Tehran and Riyadh that has enveloped much of the. Middle East. Even a limited easing of tensions in the Middle East will help tamp down the upward pressure on oil prices. Any US moves towards the lifting of the sanctions on Irans oil sector,as part of a nuclear accommodation,will expand global oil supplies and boost the economic prospects of India and other Asian countries. DELHIS VOICE. With so much in play in the Middle East and Indias high stakes in the region,it will be a pity if Singh limits his US visit to bilateral business alone. Singh,should instead use the current intense international focus on the Middle East to articulate Indias readiness to reinforce the hopeful trends in the region. Over the decades,Indias voice on Middle East issues has oscillated between mute and stilted. Great power rivalries in the region,the Arab-Israeli conflict,multiple fractures within the Muslim world,and considerations of domestic politics have tended to choke Indias voice in the region. Singh could begin to change that by highlighting a number of themes in his public remarks in Washington and New York. For one,the PM should welcome Obamas military restraint in the Middle East and the emerging cooperation between Washington and Moscow on promoting regional security,including the efforts to end the civil war in Syria and promote a political transition. As a responsible nuclear power,India must support the current progress on reducing the dangers of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and strengthening the non-proliferation regime. Given the impact of the US-Iran nuclear confrontation on its energy sector,the PM must back the current moves for a direct and comprehensive bilateral dialogue between Washington and Tehran. Despite the many remaining uncertainties,any easing of tensions between Iran and the West will help expand Indias room for manoeuvre in the Middle East. It will also help India to better cope with the impending US withdrawal from Afghanistan. New Delhi,then,must actively engage with the new dynamic in the Middle East rather than stay aloof. The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation,Delhi and a contributing editor for The Indian Express
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