Pranab heads to Tehran, energy tops agenda

July 28th, 2008 - 5:45 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee Monday left for Tehran on a two-day visit that is expected to give a political push to the $7.4 billion tri-nation gas pipeline and underline India’s commitment to pursuing an independent foreign policy. Besides meeting top Iranian leaders, he will attend a ministerial meeting of the Non-Alignment Movement (NAM), the 118-nation grouping of which India is a founder member.

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

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 also 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.

Mukherjee’s visit will be keenly watched in Washington, which wants to isolate Tehran over its suspected atomic weapon programme, and resents New Delhi’s attempts to forge closer economic and energy ties with Iran.

India has supported Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy within the ambit of its global commitment and consistently advocated dialogue and diplomacy to resolve the Iranian nuclear stand-off with the West.

The tri-nation pipeline that seeks to bring the 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.

During his visit to India April 29, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad had set a 45-day deadline to sort out all issues relating to the proposed gas pipeline, but there has been very little progress.

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.

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.

It will also reaffirm India’s belief in the enduring relevance of the ideals of non-alignment which are viewed with suspicion by Washington.

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