New Delhi: The India-US “2+2 dialogue” comprising the cabinet ministers of foreign affairs and defence of the two sides will be held in September. After several postponements, the United States has confirmed the date of the dialogue. In the fluid situation prevalent in Washington after the disastrous Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit in Helsinki, anything could happen between now and September to cause another postponement of the dialogue. Should that happen, there is little point in India taking umbrage, since it lacks the strategic heft and bandwidth to count among the first powers of the world. If the September dialogue occurs on schedule, there is equally no realistic basis for hyping it on the Indian side, as the Narendra Modi regime will be tempted to do. It is good that the dialogue is taking place. It would indeed bear the hues of success if both sides agree to keep their disagreements manageable with doors left wide open for future negotiations.

Going beyond the joint statements that are likely to emerge and the parsing of the words and expressions contained therein which diplomats spend a lifetime pointlessly examining and analyzing, the dialogue’s main concerns, Iran and Russia, and India’s commodity and defence trades with them, will likely remain unresolved. Donald Trump is hell-bent on punishing Iran for such “violations” of the nuclear deal as have not occurred. Missile testing was not covered in the deal and Iran is technically in the clear in carrying them out. That this frightens Israel which has piled pressure on pro-Israel Trump is a well-known back story but of no help to India in resolving the tangled hydrocarbon trade with Iran. The United States has set a deadline for termination of all commercial contracts with Iran and it is difficult to fathom how India can work around the ban without inviting unaffordable American retaliation. India has to choose between Iran and the United States and that is not a choice at all. India must quietly tell Iran that it would have to let go of it till the Washington climate changes for the better.

The India-Russia defence trade, on the other hand, has been complicated by the US establishment which is running smack counter to the American president’s strange and suspicious ardour for strongman Putin. The US Congress in the wake of the turmoil generated by the Helsinki summit is unlikely to grant a waiver to India to import Russian defence systems however critical they are to this country. India could of course risk angering the United States by going ahead with the deal but that is highly unadvisable. The September dialogue will see the US side trying to dissuade India from the deal and offering alternatives like THAAD which may not suffice. Again, like with trade with Iran, India has no choice. You could rage against the United States, but the fact remains that it still sets the international agenda. It is the number one Major Power and the number two and three powers follow far behind. In any case, a potential collusion of number two and three, Russia and China, against the United States rules out India’s association with them which could be mistaken for an alliance. India has been put in a straitjacket and the best option is to suffer the period of strategic confinement.

All of which suggests that the September dialogue could be reduced to a formality where no agreements beneficial to India are reached, its trades with Iran and Russia are hit, while the United States is provided a wider mandate to pressure this country for greater interoperability with the Indian armed forces. Could the last be avoided? India has succeeded in the past in tailoring US interoperability programmes to its advantage and there is no reason to believe this cannot be repeated. The United States understands India’s strategic autonomy concerns and realizes it cannot be pushed around. Since India’s Non-Alignment does not threaten US security, Washington sees no point resisting it. But Iran and Russia directly impinge on US security, and Washington would be unable to condone friends and allies who retain ties to those countries even after being advised against them. India is squeezed between a rock and a hard place and the country has to bear with the situation. The less publicity is given to the “2+2”, the better.

In times like this, this writer wishes for a prime minister like A. B. Vajpayee. With his excellent relations with the Opposition, Vajpayee would have privately urged stalwarts of the Congress, the two Left parties, the NCP, the Samajwadi Party and so on publicly to oppose American pressure on India on Iran and Russia. It may not have had an immediate impact, but Washington would learn of the difficult situation of the government. But Narendra Modi’s equation with the Opposition is so fraught that the option is unavailable. The September dialogue now depends on the limited talent available with the regime, so cross your fingers that it does not fluff the lines.