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Biden’s likely return to the Iran nuclear deal may benefit India

The Joe Biden administration is likely to continue with current US policy on India

As Joe Biden takes over as the 46th President of the US, amidst a raging pandemic, and a highly volatile domestic situation caused by outgoing President Donald Trump's supporters, over a billion Indians are wondering about his policies towards India.

Biden also faces other serious challenges – an open challenge from China, massive job loss coupled with a barely trudging economy. Given the domestic circumstances, where does India figure in Biden's overall matrix?

In an October article, A More Prosperous Future for the Indian American Community, for Indian-American newspaper India West, Biden flagged terrorism, expanded economic engagement, undergirded by a strategic understanding of balancing China as the templates of his policy towards India. Biden said: "I will continue what I have long called for: The U.S. and India will stand together against terrorism in all its forms and work together to promote a region of peace and stability where neither China nor any other country threatens its neighbors. We’ll open markets and grow the middle class in both the United States and India, and confront other international challenges together…"

Soon after his victory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had congratulated both Biden and Harris. To Biden, Modi wrote on Twitter: “As the (Vice President), your contribution to strengthening Indo-U.S. relations was critical and invaluable. I look forward to working closely together once again to take India-U.S. relations to greater heights.”

To Harris, Modi said: “Your success is pathbreaking, and a matter of immense pride not just for your chittis but also for all Indian-Americans. I am confident that the vibrant India-U.S. ties will get even stronger with your support and leadership.”

As Donald Trump recedes from the political stage, global and national priorities, coupled with pragmatism will dictate Modi and Biden relations. A report by the Washington-based Brookings Institution says, "The US defence and security relationship with India is a modest but important piece of the Biden administration's wider Indo-Pacific agenda, and one that will require steady investment and recalibration rather than major redesign."

The current, and burgeoning relationship, between the two countries is based on common defence – China. In the last few years, India and US have pushed their defence and military relations to a strategic level with fundamental alliances like the four-member Quad, signing of the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA), holding of military exercises. India continues to be a major importer of American weapons – trade that has already touched $15 billion.

With a common perception of a free and open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), Biden is likely to support India against an expansionist China. This support might not be as sharp and shrill as it was under Trump but it is likely to continue. The reality is that India enjoys a broad bipartisan consensus in Washington. With the global perception increasingly rising against China, Washington and Delhi will see themselves more and more on the same side. Chinese hegemony brings the two together.

The Biden presidency is likely to benefit India-Iran ties. With Wendy Sherman becoming Deputy Secretary of State, the chances are that the US will return to the Iran nuclear deal jettisoned by Trump. Wendy Sherman during the Obama administration was the lead US negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal.  Any resultant easing of sanctions will open new avenues for India to bond with Iran—a move that is likely to be translated in the deeping New Delhi-Tehran collaboration to develop the strategic Chabahar port. At the political level India and Iran are likely to enhance their cooperation in Afghanistan, including the development of the Hajigak corridor, for the development of the steel industry.

The US' reducing interest, and also the role in Afghanistan, will impact Indo-US relations. With Afghanistan gradually slipping out of America's strategic focus, Pakistan's role as a key American ally in the war on terror is diminishing. Over the last few years, Pakistan has been leveraging itself away from the US and inching closer to China—a major realignment in South Asian geopolitics. India figures prominently in this matrix as Pakistan lies implicated at the international level for its role in fomenting terror.

The common Indian and also the Indian government, are keenly listening to any noise that the Biden administration makes on the issue of visas. The talented human capital from India is powering top sectors like technology, medicine and healthcare globally, and in the US. Biden has promised that he plans to reverse immigration policies that Trump has imposed in his efforts to 'Make America Great Again'. The Indian techie is keenly looking forward to a more benign H-1B visa regime under Biden.

At another level, the Biden and Kamala Harris administration is packed with nearly two dozen Indian-Americans in key positions. Some of the important ones include Neera Tandon, a cabinet rank director in the Office of Management and Budget; Vinay Reddy, director of speechwriting; Vedant Patel, assistant press secretary; Neha Gupta, associate counsel and Reema Shah, deputy associate counsel. This may not result in a change or a major influencing of policy towards India but it surely is a reflection of where India and its people stand globally.

Biden understands India. As the architect of the US-India nuclear deal, he has weathered global opposition. He has also celebrated Diwali with Indians and picked Harris as his political and administrative partner.

For the two liberal societies, their mutual relations are wide-ranging with many commonalities. Biden is most likely to pick up the India baton from where Trump left it and continue running in the same direction – strengthen Indo-US relations further with fine-tuning rather than overhauling the status quo. Being democracies, the two nations will make noises and keep talking about Kashmir, human rights and climate change.

In Biden, we have a strong India connect.