Russian Alliance with Iran against US Impossible
Recently, the second round of trilateral talks between India, the US, and Afghanistan took place in New Delhi. This is while Pakistan had also taken part in the trilateral meeting between Pakistan, Britain, and Afghanistan in London, where it asked Britain to limit India’s role in Afghanistan. Do you cooperate with the US in order to compete with Pakistan?
Well, first of all, you are not right in saying that India is working with the USA. The USA wants to work with India, India is not working with the USA, and we are working with Afghanistan. We have a strategic cooperation agreement with Afghanistan, we are the first country in the world to have a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan - before the US, we were the first - so we are working closely with Afghanistan, we are in close touch with Iran about Afghanistan, you may not know about it, but this is a fact, we are working with Afghanistan, consulting with Afghanistan. As far as Pakistan is concerned, Pakistan does not want to talk to us about Afghanistan, we want to talk to Pakistan about Afghanistan, because we have problems with Pakistan, bilateral problems that will go on, this is not easy, but we are saying that Afghanistan is of interest to Pakistan and to us also, so let us see how we can cooperate in Afghanistan, the two of us. We can have joint projects, economic projects for the development of Afghanistan, we are ready and we have suggested but Pakistan does not agree, Pakistan does not want to talk to India about Afghanistan, so this is the problem. So when you say India is only talking to Afghanistan or America, yes, we are talking to America also, we are talking to Russia also, we are talking to China also about Afghanistan, we are talking to everybody about Afghanistan.
Is your priority the US?
No, the priority is Afghanistan. The US is not a priority. The US is a priority for bilateral economic relations; it is a big priority for us. But as far as Afghanistan is concerned, Mr.Karzai comes to India every other day, not every other day, but he comes. He studied in India, he went to university in India. India is the largest aid-giver among developing countries. We have given 2 billion dollars to Afghanistan, bilateral aid. We are a very big assistance-giver to Afghanistan; we are investing in Afghan people. We have nothing to do with the United States in Afghanistan, but we would like to work with Afghanistan of course, but also with Iran. Iran is, I think, a very important player in Afghanistan. You have a big border, but also your narcotics problem, which is very serious for Iran, and Iran has a very decisive influence.
Do you think Afghanistan would be a common interest between India and Iran?
Absolutely, yes, it is of common interest. Of course, you are an immediate neighbor and you have a big land border with Afghanistan which we don’t have but we have always had extremely close relations with Afghanistan and historically, all the Mogul emperors, all the foreign invaders, Alexander the Great, they all came through Afghanistan. So Afghanistan is a part of Indian history. The Mogul emperors, they ruled Afghanistan, and one of the emperors Humayun came to Iran for help and he got help on the condition that he became Shia. So Iran is very important for us.
Don’t you think Iran and Pakistan are getting closer these days?
Good, we have nothing against it, we are all for Iran having good relations with Pakistan. You are both Islamic countries, even though Pakistani Sunnis are murdering Shias in Pakistan every day, 50-60 people are being killed. That doesn’t seem to bother Iran. Isn’t Iran concerned about this issue?
But you are not saying anything about it. That is ok, that’s for you, and we have nothing against Iran and Pakistan having good relations, why not? It’s not a zero-sum game, if you have good relations with Pakistan, it doesn’t mean you can’t have good relations with us, with India.
What’s the role of the US in this relation, between India and Iran? Do you think that US pressure on India has caused some problems in this relationship?
No, we deal with Iran on the basis of independence and our sovereignty, even though America is not happy sometimes. Our Prime Minister came here for the Summit of the Non-Aligned Countries, and the Americans were not happy that he was received by the Supreme Leader, and we continue to import oil from Iran, but the Americans are creating obstacles for us and these are obstacles which are difficult to overcome financially like how to pay for the oil. There is no ban on the export of Iranian oil, so we are importing, but because of the banking problems, now it has become very difficult. So we are discussing how to overcome this problem, I think you know about this. The Turkish bank is closed now since February; that channel is not open anymore. Iran has to import much more from India, so that India can import more from Iran.
Has India ever tried to solve the conflict between Iran and the US?
No, this problem has to be solved bilaterally and I think eventually this will happen.
But the French President the other day said that India has to do something to solve this problem.
France might be ok but Iran has to ask us, America has to ask us. France asking is good, but he says that to flatter us maybe. The main thing is that in any problem the parties concerned have to ask. We will see; if we are asked we will examine that.
Is India enthusiastic about this?
Yes, if we are approached then we will look into it.
From your point of view, has the US ever requested such a thing from India?
I don’t know because I don’t work in the government anymore, I doubt it though. I think they are keeping pressure on Iran; they don’t want that pressure to be eased, so I don’t think they have asked us. But I don’t know.
Considering that India is one of the countries which is importing oil from Iran, and so it can put a kind of pressure on Iran, because Iran needs India for oil, money and other things, do you think the US can one day use this relation to put pressure on Iran?
No. Well they may want to, but India will do what is in India’s interest and in Iran there is this perception that India is too close to America or India is giving in to American pressure or America is putting too much pressure on India. It’s not so. It is your perception; please try to remove that because India is following an independent policy.
Yes, such a perception does exist. How independently from the US does India act in its foreign policy?
We are doing things which we believe are in our interest, if it is in our interest to be very close to America, we will do that. If it is in our interest to be close to Iran, Pakistan, Russia or to all these countries, we will do that. We want to be close to all the countries, we don’t want to be hostile to any country, including Pakistan. We wish the best of luck to Pakistan, because if Pakistan becomes chaotic, we will suffer. Iran will not suffer, we will suffer, Afghanistan will suffer. So we are interested in stability in Pakistan, because our highest priority in India is to bring up the levels of our people. We have poverty, we have too many poor people in India, and we want the poverty to be removed, so that is our highest priority and in that, whichever country that can be helpful to us, we will be developing relations with them.
When Mr. Ahmadinejad came to power in Iran, he tried to look at the East and not the West. Khatami was kind of looking at the West and the European countries, but Ahmadinejad tried to look at the eastern countries like China, Russia, and India. Do you think this policy has worked well since we can see these days that there is a good relationship between these countries or a kind of alliance? In Iran, people think that Iran and Russia and China and even India are going to have a kind of alliance against the US somehow. Is this a fact?
No, we will not be part of any alliance which is against any country; not only with the regard to the US, but any country. We don’t want to be a part of any alliance which is against any other country. We will be happy to be part of an alliance which promotes general prosperity and economic development. We will be happy to do that but we don’t want to be an alliance member against some country, even the US. It is not our enemy; the US is not our enemy, so why should we join a Russian and Iranian alliance against the US. The Russians are not interested in that. America is not Russia’s enemy either. Russia needs America even more than we need America.
These are, as you said, Iranian perceptions.
No, but the Iranians should not have this perception that Russia will join Iran in an anti-American alliance. No way.
In your opinion, if the conflict between Iran and the US increases, what will Russia do?
No, if there is war, then of course everybody will condemn the war. They don’t want to break up diplomatic relations with America because of that. So we are strongly against military action against Iran. We are against that.
Do you think that would be possible?
I don’t think so. Even if Israel wants to do that, it can only do it with America’s blessing, American support, and America is not interested in that. It would be a big war. And then Iran will move towards building nuclear weapons. At the moment your Supreme Leader issued a fatwa and I believe in that fatwa myself. It is a very serious thing for a Grand Ayatollah to issue a fatwa. So I take it seriously but if there is war and there is the question of the survival of Iran, then I’m sure even the Supreme Leader will do whatever is necessary to defend Iran.
As North Korea did years ago?
Yes. See, this is not in North Korea’s interests. North Korea wants to have direct talks with America. That is all they want and for that they are doing all these things.
The other day, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon said that we should stop Iran from having nuclear weapons because we can see that North Korea is doing something unacceptable. Do you think these two cases are comparable? I mean Iran and North Korea.
No two situations are exactly comparable in the world. There may be some similarities but there are no two situations which are exactly similar. North Korea is a different country; it is not a regional power. You can’t compare yourself to North Korea, just like we don’t compare ourselves to Pakistan. We are in a different league altogether. But I don’t think that Iran should even think about comparing the two situations. What is North Korea? It is an isolated small poor little country. You are a sophisticated people, you are a civilized people of thousands of years and you are not comparable to North Korea.