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Manmohan to visit Iran for closer ties

world Updated: Sep 24, 2011 23:09 IST
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will visit Iran, continuing with the efforts to reset bilateral relations cold since India’s 2005 vote against it in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“The PM has accepted an invitation from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,” foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai said after a bilateral meet between the two.

In Washington, a bilateral meeting between finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Iranian counterpart Seyyed Shamseddin Hooseini decided to speed up the two pending agreements between the countries —avoidance of double taxation (DTAA) and bilateral investment protection (BIPA).

Mukherjee thanked Tehran for continuing the supply of oil despite a delay in payments effected by sanctions against it. Following sanctions, RBI had to scrap the long-standing payment mechanism for Iran through Asian Clearing Union (ACU).

The PM’s visit, expected later this year, will be the first after A B Vajpayee’s in 2001. Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar will also be visiting Iran shortly.

Iran is crucial to India’s strategic calculus, both in South Asia and West Asia. Interests of Iran and India converge substantially in both regions and Iran accounts for 20% of India’s crude imports —all this figured in the bilateral meet.

The strain in relations with India had given space to China and Pakistan to move closer to Iran. Efforts to reach out to Iran had gained momentum with external affairs minister S M Krishna’s visit to Tehran in May 2010, and PM’s meeting with Ahmadinejad is expected to fast-track it, said Indian officials.

“India sees Iran as a stabilising factor in the region,” said an India official.

A meeting of the India-Iran Joint Economic Commission, co-chaired by the foreign ministers of the two countries, will also be held soon, Mathai said. The foreign secretary said India-Pakistan-Iran pipeline did not figure in the talks as “it was not a bilateral issue.”

Mathai dismissed the suggestions that the growing proximity between Iran-India may adversely affect India’s relations with the US. The US, trying to contain Iran and its nuke plan, has even walked out during Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN general assembly.