After years of dragging its feet on the India-Iran relationship, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tehran on May 22-23 will be an important marker in New Delhi’s attempt to instill momentum in bilateral ties.
The relationship had gone cold over the years following the imposition of international sanctions against Iran. Delhi, which always vouched for its “historic” links with Iran, had to fall in line with the international community and the government reduced its oil dependence on Tehran.
The Iranians have expressed their frustration at the situation many times, as the sanctions hit them really hard. After Iran’s nuclear deal was been concluded with the P-5+1 countries, India has been moving forward on the relationship, step-by-step.
While India’s core interest remains energy, connectivity has become a major thrust area. New Delhi has made it a strategic priority since access to Afghanistan and Central Asia is important to Indian interests.
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The expected deal on Chabahar port is being widely seen as a key outcome from the Prime Minister’s visit. As regards energy, the Farzad B gas project is another low-hanging fruit for Delhi’s energy needs and Delhi is likely to move further ahead on this during the visit.
However, Tehran has been busy hosting international competitors for the last few months. While India has the natural advantage of proximity and is widely seen as a reliable partner, Delhi needs to move fast on decision-making or else it will not be in the race.
Over the past few months several Iranian officials have made the case for faster decision-making by the Indian government on projects of mutual interest. For the Modi government, which prides itself on quicker decision-making, the relationship with Iran could be their test case.