Mukherjee heads to Tehran, IPI high on agenda

October 31st, 2008 - 9:59 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 31 (IANS) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee left for Iran Friday on a three-day visit that will give a political push to the tri-nation gas pipeline project and underline New Delhi’s enduring special relations with Tehran irrespective of growing strategic ties with Washington.Mukherjee will co-chair the two-day 15th India-Iran Joint Commission meeting, which takes place more than three years after the last one held in New Delhi in 2005.

The $7.5 billion gas pipeline project that involves exporting Iranian gas via Pakistan to India is expected to top the Tehran agenda of Mukherjee. The proposed project, which received a boost during Iranian Prime Minister Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to India in April, is stalled due to differences over pricing and security of the pipeline that will pass through the militancy-prone region of Balochistan in Pakistan.

India is also not happy with the transit fee demanded by Pakistan for the passage of gas through that country.

The ambitious project 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, suspected by some Western countries of making atomic bombs.

An agreement on air services is expected to be signed during the visit, reliable sources said.

Expanding economic ties between the two countries is also high on the agenda. Mukherjee is expected to make a pitch for enhancing commercial and trade relations when he addresses the Indo-Iran Joint Business Council meeting.

He will also address a seminar on India-Iran Bilateral Relations during which he is expected to underline India’s centuries-old civilisational ties with Iran and assure Iranians that New Delhi’s special ties with Tehran can’t be dented by its growing relations with Western powers like the US.

He will discuss a wide range of bilateral and regional issues with his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

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

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