By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI: Dispelling apprehensions of Indo-United States nuclear ties of having any negative impact on Tehranâ€™s relations with Delhi, in an exclusive interview, Iranian envoy Seyed Mehdi Nabizadeh drew attention to Indo-Iranian bilateral ties having always been â€œvery cordialâ€ down the ages. When asked about Indiaâ€™s vote against Iran at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nabizadeh replied: â€œCertainly there was a negative impact. Iran decided to ignore it and now it is history. But we hope that it would not be repeated.â€
On Iranâ€™s nuclear program, Nabizadeh specifically said: â€œWe will act according to rules and regulations of Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and IAEA. We have always had a peaceful program.â€ â€œWe must have nuclear power according to our needs,â€ he said. On the nuclear plant in southern Iran (Bushehr nuclear plant), despite there being delay in supply of fuel from Russia, â€œthe project is near the later stage of completion,â€ he said.
The envoy does not expect Iranâ€™s peaceful nuclear program to disturb its diplomatic ties. â€œWe hope we will continue to have good relations with other countries,â€ he said.
â€œThe United States has exercised a lot of pressure to prevent Iran from pursuing its peaceful nuclear program, even at IAEA,â€ which Nabizadeh said has not found much support. Even the move to transfer Iranâ€™s nuclear-program case from IAEA to UN has been rejected as â€œillegal,â€ he pointed out.
â€œWe feel that we have support for pursuing a peaceful nuclear program. Under NPT, we have the right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities. I hope that every country will be able to promote scientific pursuits for peaceful purposes,â€ Nabizadeh said.
Strongly criticizing a statement from Israel on â€œkidnappingâ€ of Iranâ€™s President, Nabizadeh said: â€œThis is exactly an illegal statement. It will create insecurity in the region. But we have registered our complaint with the United Nations Security Council through our representative.â€
On recent deliberations by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), on a cut in their production, Nabizadeh simply said: â€œIt is a normal procedure.â€
Highlighting the importance of regional diplomacy, Nabizadeh said: â€œIt is more important to have good relations with neighbors than with distant countries.â€ Elaborating on this, he said regional diplomacy for India in South Asia is as important as it is for Iran among the Arab nations.
In the coming days, prospects of Indo-Iran bilateral relations strengthening further and entering into new areas are very strong, Nabizadeh said. This is marked by the recent months being marked by high-level exchange of visits from both countries. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was here this April. â€œWe hope that certain other visits will take place during the current year,â€ Nabizadeh.
In addition to history being witness to strong Indo-Iranian ties, Nabizadeh referred to the two having had â€œvery good cooperationâ€ in the non-aligned movement. Expressing that bilateral ties are moving beyond the oil-trade, Nabizadeh highlighted the new importance being given to â€œexpansion of relations in political, cultural and economic areas.â€ This is supported by several agreements for greater cultural, educational and scientific between Iranian and Indian ministries.
â€œIranian cultural week was recently held in India. The Indian cultural week is expected to held in Iran soon,â€ the envoy said.
The upswing in bilateral economic ties, Nabizadeh pointed out is marked by the increase in â€œtrade exchange over the past two years from â€œ$7 billion to $10 billion, $8 billion of which includes oil and the rest non-oil items.â€ The Indo-Iran trade stood at $1.18 billion in 2003-04, from $913 million in the preceding year.
Besides, Nabizadeh delved on several joint committees having been set up to add greater momentum to progress in Indo-Iran ties. In this direction, â€œthe 15th joint economic commission is to meet in November in Tehranâ€ to focus on economic, political and cultural issues, he said.
In addition, there are prospects of Indo-Iranian ties expanding in the tourism sector. Of late, importance is also being given to â€œexchange of ideas and cooperation in the private sector,â€ which is likely to show results in the coming year, Nabizadeh said.
â€œCertain problems related to banking and credit,â€ are likely to be resolved soon, as â€œdiscussions are taking place to open branch of an Iranian bank in India and of an Indian bank in Iran,â€ Nabizadeh said.
The recent developments on the much-publicized Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, have been â€œvery fruitful,â€ Nabizadeh said. These include the agreement on the pipeline being via land and not water. Iran has responded â€œpositivelyâ€ to Indiaâ€™s recent demand of the gas delivered at the Indo-Pak border, he said.
Nevertheless, there remain a few hurdles such as the problem of transit and custom fees having not yet been resolved between India and Pakistan. â€œUnfortunately, no conclusion (Indo-Pak) has been yet arrived at, though some discussions have begun again,â€ he said. Besides, India has not participated in these discussions for about ten months, he said.
Discussions have also been delayed because of certain developments, including assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and elections in Pakistan, Nabizadeh said.
The IPI is â€œone of the most important projects,â€ which Nabizadeh said would â€œcontribute to economy, political stability and security of the region.â€