The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Khatami R-Day invite to boost ties with Iran

New Delhi, Dec. 11: India has signalled its growing ties with Iran by inviting President Syed Mohammed Khatami to be the Republic Day chief guest.

The invite also shows India’s acknowledgement of Teheran’s re-emergence as a major world player.

Though the exact dates of Khatami’s visit are still being worked out, it is understood that he will be here for at least three days.

During these days, he will have wide-ranging discussions with the Indian leadership, including President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Iran along with Iraq and North Korea have been described by the US as the “axis of evil”. So India’s invitation to Khatami clearly indicates that Delhi won’t compromise on issues where its interests could be hampered.

This is despite India’s improved ties with Washington. Domestically, the invite gives the Centre the chance to reaffirm its independent stand on issues.

Khatami’s visit will be the first by an Iranian President in seven years. In 1995, then President Rafsanjani had visited India.

Vajpayee’s “successful” visit to Iran last April had led to the “Teheran Declaration”, that forms the overarching structure of the countries’ political and economic ties.

India hopes Khatami’s visit will further strengthen the ties between the two countries. India’s close economic relations with Teheran have already raised some eyebrows in Washington.

But Delhi may prefer to consolidate ties because it sees the influential Islamic country as an important partner.

The countries’ economic relation is tied to the energy sector. Iran, the largest producer of natural gas, is an obvious choice for India’s growing energy needs.

Both have already signed an agreement on supply of Iranian gas to India through a proposed pipeline. Feasibility studies on whether the pipeline will be overland, pass through Pakistan or through sub-sea level are still being conducted.

The issue may come up again during Khatami’s discussions with Indian leaders. India and Iran, along with Russia, were the main backers of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, when it was the only group left to resist the Taliban regime till last year.

Now that a new dispensation is in place in Kabul with the Northern Alliance playing an important role, Delhi and Teheran can work together on projects that will help rebuild the war-ravaged country.

The regrouping of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda along Afghanistan’s borders is a cause of worry for both India and Iran. The two countries have agreed to coordinate their positions and exchange information about related developments.

Developments in Iraq, after the US threat to force a change in the Baghdad regime, could also be a major topic of discussion. Iran has fought a long and bloody war with neighbour Iraq in the 1980s. But Iraq is also one of the countries not in the good books of the US.

The regional repercussion of any US-led action against Iraq – that will also affect Delhi and Teheran – may be discussed. Both countries have emphasised it is the UN, and not the unilateral US decision, that will decide Saddam Hussein’s fate.

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