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India, Iran in navy games

New Delhi, March 8: The Indian and Iranian navies will hold joint naval manoeuvres and exercises next week, even as US warships, military equipment and troops crowd into the seas in and around Persian Gulf. This is the first time that the Indian and Iranian navies will operate jointly but port calls by their ships have been made for years.

Iran was named by US President George Bush as one of the “axis of evil” countries along with Iraq and North Korea but ties between New Delhi and Teheran go back a long time and now cover a range of issues for strategic reasons.

Two Iranian warships, the Bandar Abas, described as a “fleet replenishment tanker” and the Lavan, a logistics support vessel, have docked in Mumbai on what was officially said to be a “routine, goodwill visit”.

Defence ministry sources said ships of the Indian Navy’s western fleet will participate in the exercises as the Iranian ships head out to their next port of call. Last month, the chief of naval staff, Admiral Madhvendra Singh, had visited Iran.

India is partnering Iran in expanding a port that strategists say is aimed at allowing New Delhi an alternative route to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan. The port is west of the Pakistani naval installation at Gwadar near Karachi.

In 2000, India, Iran and Russia signed an agreement on the North-South Corridor transit of goods. Another agreement involving India, Iran and Turkmenistan was signed earlier in 1997.

Defence ministry sources said the visit of the Iranian naval vessels was aimed at “navy to navy interactions”. They said the manoeuvres planned were simple moves by ships from the two navies.

The Indian Navy has increasingly been involved in wider operations on the western coast. It helps escort along with the US Navy, merchant vessels plying the Straits of Malacca in the Indian Ocean. The navy now sees for itself a role stretching up to the Straits of Hormuz in the mouth of the Persian Gulf where the Iranian Navy has a major presence.

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