Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad has held talks in India about the ambitious 2,500-kilometre gas pipeline which is to run from Iran to India via Pakistan. Speaking with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ahmadinejad sought to re-energize drifting ties between the two countries.
Iran will supply India with five million tonnes of liquefied natural gas per year
The Iranian leader arrived in India on a working visit lasting precisely six hours -- the last leg of his three-nation whirlwind tour after state visits to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In his talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the Iranian president focussed on giving an added momentum to the long-delayed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project and on a 25 billion-dollar deal under which Iran will supply five million tonnes of liquefied natural gas to India per year.
The pipeline had been dithering till the oil ministers of India and Pakistan last week agreed to sign a bilateral agreement and go ahead with the project that has been hailed as a symbol of peace and prosperity interlinking three countries.
Logistics need work
Strategic analyst Commodore Uday Bhaskar said there was still a lot of logistic work to be done: “Any deal with Iran on energy will have to look at the nature of the transit through Pakistan, which has many strands embedded in it.”
“One [of the strands] is the politics within Pakistan, as far as India is concerned. The second is that investors still need a lot of reassurance about the safety of these pipelines through Baluchistan. It is not enough to say that Iran and Pakistan will take the responsibility.”
Ahmadinejad has thrown his political weight behind the project, which is opposed by the US on the grounds that it will bring India and Iran closer to each other and defeat its own efforts to isolate Tehran over its controversial nuclear programme.
India’s national interests
Ahead of the Iranian president’s visit, the US urged New Delhi to ask Iran to curtail its programme but Delhi refused to comply. Nuclear scientist, Dr K Sathanam, a former director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses recommended that India should work in its own interests.
“These ties are fairly old and have stood the test of time. Just because some countries have a policy or attitude towards Iran, which is different from ours, doesn’t mean we have to toe the line in the interest of other countries. Our policies will be guided by our national interests.”
New Delhi has maintained that Tehran's nuclear issue cannot be resolved through force, but through dialogue.
A number of other issues of interest to both countries, especially the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, also came up for discussion during Ahmadinejad’s talks with Prime Minister Singh and Indian President Pratibha Patil.
Manmohan Singh also hosted a private dinner for Ahmadinejad - a gesture he reserves for special friends of India - before the Iranian president headed back home.
This was Ahmadinejad's first visit to India since coming to power in August 2005. It is the second trip only by an Iranian president to India since Mohammad Khatami visited in 2003.