Mukherjee heads to Tehran Friday

October 29th, 2008 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 29 (IANS) With the India-US nuclear deal sealed, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to Tehran Friday with a clear message that New Delhi’s special ties with Tehran are in no danger of being dented by its growing strategic relations with Washington. Mukherjee will co-chair the India-Iran Joint Commission meeting with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki Saturday.

During his three-day visit, Mukherjee will also call on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and meet Saeed Jalili, chief secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, official sources said.

With the nuclear seal sealed with the US three weeks ago, India is keen to give a push to the $7.5 billion gas pipeline that involves bringing the Iranian gas via Pakistan to India.

The ambitious project, which is being opposed by the US as it feels vast revenues from the pipeline may embolden Iran to further defy the West over its nuclear programme, which is suspected by some Western countries of making atomic bombs.

The Communist parties in India have tried to put the Manmohan Singh government to what they call the Iran pipeline test - a shorthand for saying that the government’s claims of pursuing an independent foreign policy will be judged by whether it can go ahead with the project.

Mukherjee’s visit comes against the backdrop of heartburns in Tehran after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh vigorously opposed Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions at the India-EU summit in Marseilles nearly a month ago.

‚ÄúThere is no question of our supporting nuclear ambitions of Iran,” Manmohan Singh had said after the EU leaders sought India’s support in preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

An upset Tehran reacted quickly, criticising the India-US nuclear deal for allegedly violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

With the Iran issue and the India-US nuclear deal likely to be talking points in elections likely next year, Mukherjee is expected to use the Tehran visit as further proof of the government’s independent foreign policy that seeks to deepen ties not just with the US and other major powers but with other friendly countries as well.

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