August 14, 2015 1:58:21 am
Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday to discuss opportunities to strengthen ties between the two countries post the end of economic sanctions that isolated Tehran. Sources said that the focus of the conversation would be “strengthening connectivity” and “boosting oil trade”. Discussion about Modi visit to Iran was also on the agenda.
Zarif, who arrived Thursday evening, was expected to start his day Friday with a meeting with the PM at 10 am, followed by meetings with Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Vice-President Hamid Ansari. He is scheduled to wrap up his visit Friday night.
A top official told The Indian Express, “The focus of the discussions will be how to make the most of the relationship, as the economic sanctions are lifted. In short, it will be about life after sanctions.”
The visit comes a month after Modi’s meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Russian city, Ufa, where both held constructive discussions about taking the bilateral ties forward. Sources said Rouhani was confident of clinching the nuclear deal with P5+1 nations — United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.
With New Delhi committing to an Israel visit by the PM, Tehran was also reportedly keen to host Modi before early next year. Rouhani and Modi reportedly discussed the possible visit last month when they met in Ufa.
Sources said that Zarif, who negotiated the nuclear deal on behalf of Iran with P5+1 countries, had earned a lot of respect amongst the officials in South Block. This is his first visit to New Delhi after sealing the nuclear deal that will cap Tehran’s nuclear programme in lieu of lifting of economic sanctions. From New Delhi’s point of view, the focus remained on the development of Chabahar port as it was key to India’s “connectivity” plans with Afghanistan as well as to Central Asia. Since it would provide access to landlocked countries in Asia, it was seen to be of major strategic and economic significance.
The India-Iran trade ties have traditionally been buoyed by India’s import of crude oil from Iran, tilting the overall trade balance in Tehran’s favour. The India-Iran bilateral trade during 2013-14 was USD 15.26 billion. During the period, India imported USD 10.33 billion worth of goods, mainly crude oil, and exported commodities worth USD 4.92 billion.
But during the time of the economic sanctions, India struggled to make payments and find insurers for the crude oil it imported from Tehran. After the end of the sanctions, the government was hoping to increase its oil trade with Iran, especially since the global crude oil prices were hovering at around USD 50 per barrel — significantly lower than last year.
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