Trust vote behind, Pranab heads to Tehran

July 24th, 2008 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Manish Chand
New Delhi, July 24 (IANS) In an attempt to juggle India’s growing relations with the US with its centuries-old ties with Iran, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee goes to Tehran next week - his first visit abroad after the government won the trust vote Tuesday. Mukherjee will go on a day-long visit July 29, which will be packed with back-to-back meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Petroleum Minister Gholamhossein Nozari, a senior official told IANS.

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

Mukherjee’s visit, which will be keenly watched in Washington, will give a political push to the tri-nation pipeline that seeks to bring Iranian gas to India via Pakistan, which is said to be in its final stages.

The $7.5 billion pipeline project is being opposed by the US as it thinks such an ambitious project will dent its efforts to isolate Tehran over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Although the visit was scheduled much before the Left parties pulled the plug on the government forcing a trust vote in parliament which it won Tuesday, the trip is aimed at assuaging lingering anxieties among a section of the Indian political establishment, specially that of its new backer Samajwadi Party, which had made much of India sacrificing its ties with Iran over the last two years.

The Left parties, the government’s supporter-turned-foe, have relentlessly accused it of betraying a friendly country like Iran by voting against it in the IAEA for the sake of closer relations with the US.

With the India-US nuclear deal heading on its final journey and elections likely to be held in the none-too-distant future, Mukherjee’s visit has acquired political overtones and is aimed at sending the message across that India’s foreign policy is not a pawn of power games of more powerful countries like the US.

In his reply to the trust vote in parliament, Manmohan Singh Tuesday made a special mention of India’s ties with Iran while underlining India’s commitment to developing “relations with big powers as well as with our neighbours in West Asia, notably Iran, Iraq, Palestine and the Gulf countries.”

The prime minister reiterated India’s position on the Iranian nuclear programme, suspected of developing nuclear weapons, saying these issues should be “resolved through dialogue and discussions in the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

Mukherjee’s visit will also take place against the backdrop of speculation about a planned military attack on Iran by Israel, a plan which is said to enjoy the backing of the powers-that-be in Washington.

However, the US has lately begun a process of rapprochement with Iran as they held their first diplomatic talks in Geneva last week.

Last week, India had reacted strongly to such reports saying any such move will destablise the entire West Asia region which is home to over 4.5 million-strong Indian diaspora.

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