The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iran pact, in spite of America

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Iran will sign the “Delhi Declaration” with India, putting on paper not only the growing ties between the two countries in the past few years, but also the direction in which they want their bilateral relations to flourish.

The declaration, to be sealed during Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s four-day state visit to the country beginning January 24, will provide the overarching structure that will allow the two sides to work closely with each other on areas of mutual interest and benefit.

The US has bracketed Iran along with Iraq and North Korea as the “axis of evil” which Washington plans to break some time in the coming days.

But that India, despite its growing ties with Washington, has decided to invite the Iranian President indicates not only the importance it accords to its relations with Teheran, but also its independence in foreign policy.

Khatami will be the first Iranian head of government to come to India in seven years. He will also be the first head of state from the Gulf to grace the Republic Day celebration as chief guest. The last Iranian President to visit the country was Rafsanjani in late 1995.

India is laying it out for the honoured visitor from Teheran. The Delhi University has decided to confer an honorary doctorate on the Iranian President.

To show how much he is valued, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has also decided to host a private dinner for Khatami — something which Vajpayee does only for a select few “friends”, Russian President Vladimir Putin being one of them.

Khatami’s main meetings will be on Saturday when he will have a delegation level discussion to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations with Vajpayee. He will also meet the deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, the vice-president, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, the finance minister, Jaswant Singh, and the foreign minister, Yashwant Sinha.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who will be Khatami’s main host, will give a banquet in his honour on Saturday evening at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

India’s close economic ties with Teheran has already raised some brows in Washington, but Delhi may like to consolidate its ties with Iran as it sees this influential Islamic country as an important ally.

The economic ties between the two sides are mainly tied to the energy sector. Iran, the largest producer of natural gas, is an obvious choice for India’s growing energy needs. The two sides have already signed an agreement on the supply of Iranian gas to India through a proposed pipeline. Feasibility studies are being conducted to determine whether this proposed pipeline would be overland, passing through Pakistan, or at the sub-sea level. The issue may come up once again during Khatami’s discussion with Indian leaders.

India and Iran, along with Russia, had been the main supporters of the Northern Alliance when it was the only pocket of resistance to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan till last year. The present dispensation in Kabul, in which the Northern Alliance plays an important role, has created a situation where Delhi and Teheran can jointly work in projects to contribute towards re-building the war ravaged nation.

The re-grouping of Taliban and al Qaida members in border areas of Afghanistan is a common cause of worry for both India and Iran, and the two sides have agreed to coordinate their positions and exchange information about developments relating to this issue.

Developments in Iraq, in the wake of Washington’s threat to use force to bring about a regime change in Baghdad, is also one of the main topics of discussion between the two sides. Iran, a neighbour of Iraq, fought a long and bloody war with Iraq in the 1980s. But it is also one of the countries which is not in the good books of the Bush administration.

The repercussions of an US-led armed action in Iraq, which will adversely affect both Delhi and Teheran, is also likely to come up during the discussions. Both sides have stressed that it will be the UN — and not the unilateral American decision — which will decide the fate of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Baghdad.

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