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India-Iran to discuss Farzad-B gas field, Chabahar during Rouhani's visit

Archis Mohan/New Delhi 14 Feb 18 | 07:03 PM

File photo of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will be on a three-day visit to India from Thursday. Bilateral talks are likely to focus on the progress on the Chabahar port of Iran that New Delhi is helping to develop, bilateral trade — particularly the issue of Indian investment in Iran's Farzad-B gas field and oil imports, and mutual regional security concerns.

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Rouhani's is the first visit by an Iranian President to New Delhi since that Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, came to India in 2003, at the invitation of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Rouhani will visit New Delhi to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. He is scheduled to land in Hyderabad on Thursday evening. On Friday, the Iranian President will offer prayers at the Makkah Masjid and also address a gathering of religious leaders and intellectuals.

The circumstances of Rouhani's visit, which comes amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the Donald Trump administration in Washington DC, are somewhat akin to the visit to New Delhi of Khatami. Then, the George W Bush administration had included Iran in its category of "axis of evil", along with the governments in Iraq and North Korea. Khatami was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade in 2003.

The visit of the Iranian President comes in the wake of rising oil prices, and Prime Minister Modi's West Asia outreach. In January, Modi Government had hosted Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. India-Iran trade was $12.89 billion in 2016-17, of which India imported $10.5 billion worth of crude oil from Tehran and exported commodities worth $2.4 billion.

On Tuesday, Modi returned from a four-nation visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, Palestine and Oman. An agreement between India and Oman will give Indian Navy access to the Duqm port in Oman, which should extend India's strategic reach in the region. It would also —along with Indian presence in Chabahar port — help New Delhi counter the Chinese presence in Pakistan's Gwadar port.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of External Affairs said that during the visit of the Iranian President, "both sides would review the progress achieved in bilateral relations and also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest."

India and Iran relations have remained vibrant during the tenure of the Modi Government, with frequent ministerial visits from both sides. Iranian Roads Minister visited India in November 2014, and Foreign Minister in August 2015. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Oil and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan visited Tehran in April 2016. A month later, in May, 2016, PM Narendra Modi visited Tehran.

The PM's visit to Tehran had witnessed the signing of the 'trilateral transit agreement' for the Chabahar port. In October, India supplied 15,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through Chabahar. The port is expected to be operational by the end of 2018.

In a related development, the ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) on Wednesday offered to invest $6.2 billion in developing Iran's Farzad-B gas field in the Persian gas. Negotiations had been stuck over pricing of natural gas. New Delhi hopes for a breakthrough on the deal during Rouhani's visit.

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