India got caught in the crossfire between the United States and Iran after President Donald Trump blamed assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani for a spate of terror attacks, including one in Delhi, a charge Iran’s envoy to India has denied.
In a statement in Washington, Mr. Trump justified the killing of Mr. Soleimani in a missile attack on his convoy outside the Baghdad airport, saying that the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) international operations or “Quds force” was responsible for several terror attacks and was planning more.
“Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion, contributing to terrorist plots as far away as New Delhi and London,” Mr. Trump said.
Iran’s Ambassador to India Ali Chegeni denied the allegations. “Mr. Trump can say anything he likes, he can give any list of attacks that he likes. But this is a big lie. General Soleimani was a soldier, he was not involved in the targetting of innocents anywhere,” Mr. Chegeni said in an interview to The Hindu.
The Ministry of External Affairs declined to comment on Mr. Trump’s statement, which brought New Delhi into the rising tensions between Washington and Tehran.
Mr. Trump is believed to have referred to the car bombing of an Israeli diplomat in Delhi in February 2012. The diplomat, who was also the wife of the Israeli defence attaché, was injured in the attack along with three others. At the time, the Delhi Police’s special cell that investigated the case believed it was connected with attacks on Israeli diplomats in Tbilisi, Georgia as well as Bangkok, Thailand, and was reportedly carried out by IRGC agents at the time in retaliation for attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. Delhi Police officials say the case has not moved since 2013, when the lone suspect, an Indian journalist with an Iranian news agency, was granted bail, a decision that was upheld in the Supreme Court.
Mr. Chegeni said that by raising the issue, Mr. Trump was attempting to cover the U.S.’s action in killing the Iranian official while he was visiting Iraq after travelling to Syria for “anti-terrorism consultations”.
“Gen Soleimani fought against the ISIS, Jubhat Al Nusra, Al-Qaeda. He was invited to Syria and Iraq by their governments for advice and assistance on fighting these terror groups. So anyone who assassinated him, is for the terrorists. And if this was ordered by their President, as the U.S. says, then this is an act of state terrorism,” he noted.
New Delhi expresses concern
On Friday, India issued a statement that expressed concern over rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and “noted” the U.S.’s killing of the senior Iranian official.
When asked, Mr. Chegeni said he expected India would also “condemn the assassination of an official who was on a visit to another country on official invitation.”
He stated,“We expect India as our reliable friend to advise the United States to follow international norms and not destabilise the region. We have the right to retaliate, but Iranians are patient, we will choose the time and place of our response to this killing.”
Tougher language is expected from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who is due in Delhi on January 14 to address the Raisina dialogue. The 3-day event, where U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger will also speak, could see India, which has attempted a “tightrope walk” in ties with both countries, caught in the middle again.
(with inputs from Saurabh Trivedi)