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India in a piquant spot

India in a piquant spot
Besides attacking Iran for its alleged interference in the internal matters of neighbouring countries and harbouring terrorists and extremist groups, the first ever Arab-Islamic-US summit focused on terrorism where Trump adopted reconciliatory tones towards the Islamic world by asking them to fight the menace jointly
The aggressive stance of the United States and some 50 Arab and Islamic countries against Iran at their summit in Riyadh earlier this week may put India in a delicate situation as it has diverse strategic and economic interests in the region.

US President Donald Trump who chaired the summit along with his host Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul Aziz sought to delink terror from religion and mentioned India as one of the victims of terror.

"India, Russia, China, and Australia have been victims" of terror so are nations of Europe, Africa and even South America, said Trump, who visited Saudi Arabia, and Israel before flying to Vatican on his first foreign tour after assuming the office as President.

Besides attacking Iran for its alleged interference in the internal matters of neighbouring countries and harbouring terrorists and extremist groups, the first ever Arab-Islamic-US summit focused on terrorism where Trump adopted reconciliatory tones towards the Islamic world by asking them to fight the menace jointly.

Making no secret of his antipathy towards Iran, which just re-elected Hassan Rouhani as President cementing his reformist agenda, Trump said it "funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups" and urged all nations to work together to isolate it.

"From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fuelled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror", the American President said in his speech that must have delighted the Saudis.

The Riyadh declaration issued after the summit devoted a good five paragraphs on Iran accusing its regime of destabilising the security and stability of the region and the world at large, and for its "continuing support for terrorism and extremism".

Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of "conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve," the US President said.

American allies Gulf countries have been apprehensive of Iran ever since the Obama administration negotiated a deal to control Tehran's nuclear programme that led to the lifting of sanction against it.

Trump's hardline approach towards Iran with whom India has economic and strategic interests and his tilt towards Saudi Arabia, observers said may be a matter of concern for New Delhi as it has excellent relations with both the Islamic powers.

During the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Tehran in May 2016, a trilateral agreement on Transit and Transport was signed between India, Iran, and Afghanistan. Under the agreement, India has committed an investment of US$85 million for equipping Iran's Chabahar port for the purpose.

Trump during his two-day visit to the Kingdom attended three back-to-back summits—Saudi-US summit, GCC-US summit and Arab-Islamic-American summit.

The US and Saudi Arabia signed several agreements including one of a US$110 billion Saudi-funded defence purchase, and Trump said this well help the Saudi military to take a greater role in security operations.

Iran reacted sharply to its bashing at the summit accusing the US of selling arms to "dangerous terrorists" in the region and spreading "Iranophobia" aimed at encouraging Arab states to purchase arms.

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted saying that "Iran—fresh from real elections—(was) attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy and moderation"—a sarcastic reference to Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy.

The Islamic countries, which attended the summit, would now have to balance the Riyadh Declaration and their ongoing engagement with Iran, said Omair Annas, Research Fellow at the Indian Council of World Affairs.

He specifically mentioned countries like Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, and Central Asian countries, which have good relations with Iran.

"While President Trump's address in Saudi Arabia appears to be an attempt to set a new and more productive tone in relations with the Muslim world, one speech cannot outweigh years of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals," Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Nihad Awad said in a statement.
Some observers are of the view that Trump's exercise was part of a larger drive to plant the US firmly in the camp of Sunni Arab nations and Israel in their confrontation with Shiite Iran.

This "fixation" with Iran and its threats to regional peace and stability cannot be a substitute for real efforts to solve the ongoing regional conflicts, beginning with the Palestinian problem and ending with the six-year-old bloody civil war in Syria, they said.

The participating nations decided to set up a reserve of 34,000 soldiers to back counter-terrorism operations in Iraq and Syria when needed.

With a view to stopping terror financing, they agreed to set up Terrorists Financing Targeting Centre to be co-chaired by the US and Saudi Arabia and joined by every member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The participants expressed their intention to establish a Middle East Strategic Alliance by 2018 in which the participating countries will contribute to peace and security in the region and the world.

While in Israel, Trump, who met Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called on Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises for peace but offered no specifics of what he intends to do resolve the decades-old conflict.

It is worth noting that he did not specifically mention the two-state solution to the conflict, which has long been the focus of international efforts and US West Asia diplomacy. However, Netanyahu has ceased referring to this now.

Trumps also met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem in occupied West Bank. Abbas sought to convince Trump to remain committed to an independent Palestinian state and reiterated his call for a two-state solution to the conflict, including a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

(M Shakeel Ahmed isformer Editor, PTI. Hehas also served as West Asia Correspondent for PTI, based in Bahrain from 1988 to 1995. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Agencies

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