President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran is likely to set off a period of uncertainty in West Asian geopolitics, and a churn in the global order. The withdrawal, first and foremost, has severely limited Washington’s options with regard to Tehran. In essence, if Iran too withdraws from the pact it signed during the tenure of the Barack Obama administration, it may well return to its uranium enrichment programme, a precursor to acquiring nuclear weapons. As Obama put it, without the JCPOA, the US must either live with a nuclear Iran or go to war to prevent it. Trump’s move also betrays a lack of understanding of the new, emerging world order. Rather than isolate Iran diplomatically, Trump’s decision may end up diminishing the US’s stature as a global leader.
Unlike in the Cold War era or at certain points in its aftermath, the West is not currently united behind America. The UK, France, Germany and Canada have said they will continue to support and be part of the JCPOA. In addition, emerging and resurgent powers — China and Russia — have condemned the US’s withdrawal and the decision to impose sanctions on Iran. Trump’s aggressive posture has received vociferous support from Israel and Saudi Arabia — two countries competing with Iran in West Asia, both militarily and ideologically. Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said he will canvass support for the deal before returning to the country’s nuclear programme. As a moderate in Iran’s political landscape, Rouhani risked considerable political capital in pushing the deal through. It is clear that western powers other than the US are keen to encourage that strand in West Asia, which will certainly be under siege in Iran if sanctions are reimposed — the deteriorating economic condition was one of the reasons for countrywide protests in January.
New Delhi, for its part, enjoys cordial relations with all the actors involved: The Chabahar port is a joint venture between India, Afghanistan and Iran; India is a major defence procurer from Israel and enjoys deep ties with Saudi Arabia. New Delhi must, of course, balance its relations with the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel on the one hand and Iran on the other, keeping its own strategic interests in mind. But as an emerging global power in its own right, India can also use its influence and strategic weight with the actors in West Asia to help move towards a détente in the region.