By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI – Opening a new chapter in Indo-Iran ties, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived here Tuesday evening (April 29). The highlight of Ahmadinejadâ€™s visit was the dinner hosted in his honor by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two leaders had last met in September 2006, on sidelines of a summit in Havana. Ahmadinejad also called on his Indian counterpart, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil at Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Ahmadinejadâ€™s India-visit, though brief, has definitely signaled that India has no inclination to hold its bilateral ties with Iran hostage to any other countryâ€™s whims.
Ahmadinejad wrapped up his brief India visit on Tuesday night on an optimistic note. While addressing a press conference, he described India and Iran as â€œtrue friends.â€ Hailing relations between the two countries as â€œvery deep and historical,â€ he laid emphasis on their friendship being â€œvery goodâ€ even today. This was his response to questions on whether Indo-Iran ties have been affected by India having vote twice against Iran at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
With his visit being sudden and short, to a question put by this correspondent on whether he had considered returning to Tehran without stopping at India, his reply was, with India and Iran being friends, the visit took place, without their ties being subject to any â€œbully power.â€
On questions regarding the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, he said: â€œThe details would be visible in four years from now.â€ This implied that there is no question of either country backtracking now from the pipeline reaching its final stage.
The pipeline was focus of discussions at the dinner hosted by Manmohan. This was also indicated by Manmohan having invited Petroleum Minister Murli Deora to the dinner. Among other Indian officials present for this meeting were External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan.
With the ambitious pipeline project remaining stuck because of differences over cost factors, Manmohan and Ahmadinejad reviewed its progress. The proposed $7.5 billion project to transport gas to India and Pakistan is viewed as crucial. The 2,600-km (1,620-mile) pipeline, according to analysts, could contribute to security in the region as Iran, Pakistan and India would benefit by mutual cooperation. Besides, India relies heavily on fuel imports.
If work on pipeline, as scheduled, begins in 2009, it is expected to finish in 2012. Initially, it is to transport 60 million cubic meters of gas daily to Pakistan and India, half for each country. Later, the pipelineâ€™s capacity will increase to 150 million cubic meters.
India is also keen on pursuing negotiations regarding the $25 billion deal for getting five million tons a year of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Iran for the next 25 years.
Extensive discussions were held on a host of international and bilateral issues of mutual interests also. Besides, India sought Ahmadinejadâ€™s stand on the situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq. On this, sources earlier said: â€œWe have major stakes in Afghanistan and it will be an ideal opportunity for us to get a view from the Iranian President on how the situation there is evolving, especially in the wake of reports about re-grouping by the Taliban.â€
Despite it being a brief visit, India sought to accord it as much importance as possible to assure Iran that despite India having voted twice against Iran at IAEA, Indo-Iranian ties remain as warm as before. This also explains the alacrity with which India has snubbed United Statesâ€™ suggestion of taking up the nuclear issue during talks with Ahmadinejad.