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Delhi on US-stung Khatami’s route

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Iranian President Mohammed Khatami is likely to come to India on a state visit early next year, underlining the growing closeness between the two countries.

The dates and duration of the visit are being worked out.

Khatami’s possible visit was part of the discussions that India and Iran held when the two sides recently met in Tehran for foreign office consultations and strategic dialogue.

Developments in Iraq, India-Pakistan relations, and cooperation on Afghanistan and in the energy sector were some of the other issues that were discussed during the two-day meeting that ended yesterday.

If Khatami visits India, it would strengthen the growing ties between the two sides after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laid the foundation with the Tehran Declaration following his successful trip to Iran last year. It helped provide the framework for closer cooperation at the political level as well as in the sphere of economics.

Khatami’s visit will also be significant in view of the Bush administration’s identification of Iran along with North Korea and Iraq as the countries in its “axis of evil”. India’s close economic ties with Tehran may have raised eyebrows in Washington, but Delhi sees this influential Islamic country as an important partner.

Iran is the largest producer of natural gas. India has signed an agreement on the supply of Iranian gas through a proposed pipeline. Feasibility studies on whether this pipeline will be overland, pass through Pakistan, or be at the sub-sea level are still being conducted. The issue came up for discussion at the foreign office talks.

India and Iran — along with Russia — were the main backers of the Northern Alliance when it was the only pocket of resistance to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Now that a new dispensation rules Kabul, and the Northern Alliance also plays an important role, it has created a situation in which Delhi and Tehran can jointly work on projects for rebuilding the war-ravaged country.

The regrouping of the Taliban and al Qaida members in border areas of Afghanistan is a cause of worry for both India and Iran. The two sides agreed to coordinate their positions and exchange information regarding this.

Developments in Iraq, in the wake of America’s threat to use force to bring about a regime change in Baghdad, were discussed at length. The two sides focused on the repercussions of a US-led armed action, which could adversely affect both Delhi and Tehran.

Both sides seemed happy that it will be the United Nations, not America, that will decide the fate of the Saddam Hussein regime.

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