A girl holds a sign during a funeral procession for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleiman, in Ahvaz, Iran (Photo: Reuters)
A girl holds a sign during a funeral procession for Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleiman, in Ahvaz, Iran (Photo: Reuters)

Developments have taken serious turn, deeply concerned: India to Iran

  • External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar speaks with his Iranian counterpart, says India deeply concerned about levels of tension
  • The conversation between the two leaders comes days after Iran's top military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a US strike

New Delhi: India on Sunday said the situation in the Gulf region has taken a very serious turn after the killing of a senior Iranian Quds Force commander in a US drone strike exacerbated tensions and triggered a war of words and threats between the US and Iran.

Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar spoke to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif besides reaching out to the foreign ministers of Oman and the United Arab Emirates. During the calls, Jaishankar said he conveyed India’s concerns and its stakes in the region to his counterparts.

“Had a telephonic discussion with Secretary of State @SecPompeo on the evolving situation in the Gulf region. Highlighted India's stakes and concerns," Jaishankar said in a Twitter post on Sunday evening.

The dichotomy in views was reflected in the tweets put out by Jaishankar and Pompeo.

“@DrSJaishankar and I spoke just now regarding Iran’s continued threats and provocations. The Trump Administration won’t hesitate to act to keep American lives, and those of our friends and allies, safe," Pompeo said in his post.

“Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo spoke today to Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to discuss Iran’s continued provocations and threats to the region," US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said separately.

On Saturday, Pompeo met India's ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla on Saturday, ahead of the latter's return to New Delhi to take up the role of foreign secretary. According to people familiar with the developments, the two did discuss the US drone strike that killed Soleimani on Friday.

Earlier in the day, Jaishankar in another Twitter post said he had spoken to Zarif as well. Zarif is expected in New Delhi for the 14-16 January Raisina Dialogue that is hosted by the Indian foreign ministry and the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank.

“Just concluded a conversation with FM @JZarif of Iran. Noted that developments have taken a very serious turn. India remains deeply concerned about the levels of tension. We agreed to remain in touch," Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

The flurry of phone calls and tweets came against the backdrop of heightened tensions as Iran threatened to hit back against the drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani in Iraq on Friday. Soleimani was seen as Iran’s pre-eminent military commander, leading the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ overseas Quds Force. He was regarded as the force behind Iran’s spreading influence in the Middle East. On Sunday, Iran condemned US Donald Trump as a “terrorist in a suit" after he threatened to hit 52 Iranian sites if Tehran attacks Americans or U.S. assets in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. “Like ISIS, Like Hitler, Like Genghis! They all hate cultures. Trump is a terrorist in a suit. He will learn history very soon that NOBODY can defeat ‘the Great Iranian Nation & Culture’," Information and Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi tweeted.

India sees the Gulf region as part of its extended neighbourhood housing about 7 million expatriate Indians who send home valuable foreign remittance. The region is also a major source of energy for import-dependent India. While India stopped importing oil from Iran last year following a new set of US sanctions after Washington pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, countries in the volatile region – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are important sources of fuel for import dependent India. On Friday, a statement from the Indian foreign ministry advocated restraint and underlined the need for “peace, stability and security in this region."

“We have noted that a senior Iranian leader has been killed by the US. The increase in tension has alarmed the world. Peace, stability and security in this region is of utmost importance to India. It is vital that the situation does not escalate further. India has consistently advocated restraint and continues to do so," the statement said.

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