India yet to decide on Iran president’s request to meet Manmohan

September 20th, 2008 - 6:27 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 20 (IANS) India is trying to keep Iran out of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s political engagements in the US during the trip beginning next week that can fetch New Delhi the much-waited nuclear deal with Washington.Iran has put in a request for a meeting between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York that both leaders will attend.

Though it has been nearly two weeks since the request was made, India has not yet finalized the meeting.

“A request for a meeting between President Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Singh was sent to India some time back. But we have not yet got a final word on the proposed meeting,” an Iranian official speaking on condition of anonymity told IANS.

The Iranian president is already in New York and will be there till Sep 29.

The prime minister will be in New York Sep 23-28. In between, he will fly down to Washington for a meeting with US President George W. Bush Sep 25.

There is growing optimism in both India and the US that the 123 agreement on civil nuclear cooperation which is now awaiting a final nod from the US Congress, will be ready for signature during the Bush-Manmohan Singh meeting.

“The schedule of the prime minister while he is New York is always heavy as there are requests from many countries for bilateral meetings,” a South Block source told IANS Saturday.

“Some of the meetings have been firmed up, while the others have not. But this does not mean a proposed meeting or a request that is before us will not be entertained,” the source said.

Apart from a bilateral meeting with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and another one with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the prime minister’s other bilateral meetings in New York have not yet been finalized.

The UN General Assembly has traditionally been a favourite place for world leaders to meet each other bilaterally on its sidelines.

India’s reluctance to finalize a meeting between Manmohan Singh and Ahmadinejad may be part of its cautious approach to avoid something that may jeopardize the India-US nuclear deal. Or it may also stem from India’s disappointment with Tehran for its public criticism of nuclear cooperation New Delhi seeks with the US and the world.

India has been miffed over the critical stand Iran had taken at last month’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors’ meeting in Vienna when the Indian safeguards agreement with the UN watchdog came up for signature.

Though Iran was part of the unanimous decision in the 35-member board of governors to support the safeguards agreement, it did not miss the opportunity of criticizing both the US and India on their proposed nuclear deal.

“We were really surprised by the Iranian statement at the IAEA,” the South Block source said.

India was surprised mainly because during discussions to the run-up to the IAEA board meeting, Iran had indicated it understood why India wanted to sign the nuclear deal with the US.

“Iran chose to express its frustration over the western pressure on its controversial nuclear programme at India’s expense,” the source added.

India-Iran relations have been strained in the past, especially after India had voted with the US and its western allies against Iran at the IAEA board meeting in 2005. But subsequently, both sides had begun serious engagements to remove irritants from their bilateral ties.

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