India plays NAM card as Pranab heads to Tehran (Lead)

July 28th, 2008 - 10:26 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) India Monday underlined its commitment to ideals of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and an independent foreign policy as External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee headed for Iran on a two-day visit. He will attend a NAM conference at Tehran and also pursue the tri-nation gas pipeline project. Mukherjee’s visit will be keenly watched in Washington, which wants to isolate Tehran over its suspected atomic weapons programme and resents New Delhi’s attempts to forge closer economic and energy ties with Iran through a tri-nation gas pipeline project that involves Pakistan.

“As one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement, India remains strongly committed to its purposes and principles and will continue its active and constructive engagement within it,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement hours after Mukherjee left for Tehran to attend the 15th Ministerial Conference of the NAM.

“India will work to further strengthen solidarity and cooperation among the Member States of NAM, which continues to play its crucial role in international affairs,” the ministry said in a message aimed at asserting its pioneering role in the grouping, which some claim has lost its relevance in the post-Cold War world.

The ministerial meeting will provide Mukherjee with an opportunity to present India’s case for global nuclear cooperation. Some NAM countries are members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) like Egypt, Ghana and Algeria, and some also are Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) countries like South Africa.

A number of bilateral meetings have been arranged with his counterparts from NAM - a 118-nation grouping of countries which is not aligned with any major power bloc.

Mukherjee’s visit will also focus on giving a political push to the $7.4 billion tri-nation gas pipeline, involving India, Pakistan and Iran.

Over the next two days, Mukherjee will meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Petroleum Minister Gholamhossein Nozari and discuss with them a range of bilateral, regional and global issues.

He is likely to meet Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and chief secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.

This is Mukherjee’s first visit abroad after the government won the trust vote nearly a week ago and decided to fast-track the India-US civil nuclear deal that has the potential to bring the two countries in closer economic and strategic embrace.

With the India-US nuclear deal heading on its final journey and elections slated to take place within a year, Mukherjee’s visit has acquired political overtones and will send the message across that India’s independent foreign policy cannot be manipulated by any foreign power.

The tri-nation pipeline that seeks to bring Iranian gas to India via Pakistan will figure high in his discussions with the Iranian leaders who are keen to resolve gas pricing and security issues with New Delhi so that the pipeline dream can inch closer to reality.

New Delhi is still not clear about the economic viability of the project and has serious concerns about the security of the pipeline that will pass through violence-prone tribal areas in Pakistan.

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