Two days after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh met his counterpart in Iran, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday flew to Tehran and met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and discussed the Chabahar port project and the situation in Afghanistan, The Indian Express has learnt.
Jaishankar, who was on his way to Moscow for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Foreign Ministers’ meeting on Monday, made a “technical halt” for refuelling the special aircraft.
Two back-to-back high-level ministerial visits from India to Iran, sources said, signals Delhi’s commitment to ties with Tehran at a difficult time like this.
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The visit comes in the backdrop of strained ties between the US and Iran, and China trying to grab the strategic space in sanctions-hit Iran.
New Delhi is committed to the Chabahar project, and sources pointed out that India had allocated Rs 100 crore for the project in this year’s Budget. The allocation of the funding signals India’s desire and commitment to be part of the project, but it has to undertake “due diligence” before spending the money, sources said.
It is also exempted from the US sanctions, under a special waiver from the US administration led by President Donald Trump.
But, New Delhi — which is watching the US elections closely — will assess the geopolitical situation and take the next steps possibly by the end of the year when the US elections take place.
If Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden wins the US elections, the threat of sanctions will in all likelihood evaporate.
Also, India is deeply invested in Afghanistan, and the rise of Taliban into power worries both Delhi and Tehran. Both India and Iran are on the same page when it comes to power-sharing in Afghanistan. So, Delhi has exchanged notes with Tehran with these two ministerial meetings in a span of two days.
Sources said that Tehran welcomed the visits, and that was evident in the red carpet welcome for both Singh and Jaishankar.
After the meeting, Zarif tweeted on Tuesday, “Pleased to host my Indian counterpart @DrSJaishankar in Tehran for talks today. Discussed expansion of bilateral relations and trade, and exchanged views on important regional issues. Our active engagement with our neighborhood is our top priority.”
Strategic move amid US sanctions
India’s intensified diplomatic engagement with Iran has caught attention this week. But for Delhi, it is a strategic imperative. With the US sanctions hitting Iran hard, China sees a strategic opportunity in Tehran. Delhi is determined that Iran does not fall in Beijing's sphere of influence, and the renewed diplomatic efforts are a sign of that intent.
Jaishankar tweeted, “A productive meeting with FM @JZarif during a stopover in Tehran. Discussed strengthening our bilateral cooperation and reviewed regional developments. Thank him for his gracious hospitality.”
Jaishankar will be attending the meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers of Shanghai Cooperation Organization to be held in Moscow on September 9-10. Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will also attend the meeting, being hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
This will be the third foreign ministers’ meeting India will be attending as a full member of SCO. Earlier two meetings were held in Beijing (China) on April 23-24, 2018, and Bishkek (Kyrgyz Republic) on May 21-22, 2019. India has been taking active part in various SCO dialogue mechanisms under the chairmanship of the Russian Federation in this year. The SCO Summit will be held in the near future.
An MEA statement said that the meeting in Moscow will review preparations for the forthcoming SCO Summit and also exchange views on international and regional issues. The External Affairs Minister’s visit in Moscow will include participation in the Council of SCO Foreign Ministers and other bilateral meetings.