Updated: May 23, 2016 9:24:30 am
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Tehran for his first visit — 15 years after the last Indian PM to come to Iran, Atal Behari Vajpayee — India and Iran were preparing to sign about six agreements and talk about trade and connectivity.
However, Pakistan is going to be the elephant in the room during the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Monday.
This will be especially pertinent as Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani will join Modi and Rouhani, in the signing of the trilateral agreement on Chabahar. The development of Chabahar is seen as a competitor to the China-backed Gwadar port in Pakistan.
“Pakistan is a neighbour to India and Iran, and both have a shared interest in the approach to Pakistan, and to regional security. So there could be some exchanging of notes on the regional situation, since both share turbulent borders with Pakistan,” a top Indian official told The Indian Express.
Tehran and New Delhi are expected to sign the agreements after the bilateral talks, followed by lunch. The agreements will include the Chabahar agreement, a trilateral transit pact between India, Iran and Afghanistan, a deal involving the Exim bank, another between Export Credit Guarantee Corporation and their Iranian counterpart, and one between NALCO and an Iranian partner.
“These pacts are meant to signal our commitment to the objectives of connectivity, exports, and cooperation in mineral resources,” an official said.
After landing in Tehran, Modi tweeted, “Reached Iran, a land with whom India shares civilisational ties. Hope to enhance economic partnership between our nations. I also hope my Iran visit further cements cultural and people-to-people ties between India and Iran.”
While connectivity, energy security and bilateral trade are on top of Modi’s agenda, the visit also holds significance in the context of Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia recently.
In an interview to Iran’s IRNA news agency, Modi said the two countries have “always focused (on adding) strength to our relations, even during difficult times. In the current context, both countries can look to expanding our cooperation in the fields of trade, technology, investment and infrastructure and energy security.”
He said lifting of international sanctions on Iran has “opened up immense opportunities for both the countries, especially in the economic sphere”. India is keen to enhance its investment in the Persian Gulf nation and also welcomes flow of capital and investments from there, he said.
Pakistan’s shadow on the relationship was articulated by at least three Iranian experts in Tehran. However, while all agreed that Pakistan’s role was important, they also emphasised that Iran would try to balance ties with Delhi and Islamabad.
Zeeba Farzinnia, Director of East Asia studies group at the Institute for Political and International Studies (an Iranian Foreign ministry-backed think tank), said, “Pakistan has strong ties with Arab countries and very good, all-weather friendship with China. This poses difficulties for both Iran and India. Iran tries to balance the relations between India and Pakistan. If you change the balance, then there are difficulties.”
She said, “We do not want to build relations with India and destroy relationship with Pakistan. It is very hard, but we try.”
Modi, who landed in Tehran on Sunday evening accompanied by Shipping and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, was received by Iran’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyebniam, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ibrahim Rahimpour.
He went to Gurudwara Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha immediately after landing at the airport.
On Monday, Modi will be accorded an official welcome, following which he will hold talks with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
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