The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq in mind, Brajesh heads to Iran

New Delhi, April 24: National security adviser and Prime Minister’s principal secretary Brajesh Mishra left for Teheran tonight, indicating India’s desire to play a significant role in post-Saddam Iraq and keep up the momentum in its relations with Iran.

Over the past few weeks, India has been in touch with all key players, in the region and outside, who are likely to have a say in Iraq.

Mishra is scheduled to visit the US early next month and hold talks with senior members of the Bush administration on Iraq and other issues.

Iran, the recognised seat of Shias, is likely to play an important role in the restoration of peace and normality to Iraq. Sciri, the largest Iraqi Shia Opposition group which had been running its campaign against Saddam Hussein from Iran, has so far refused to participate in the US’ initiative to set up a new regime in Baghdad. But there is no denying that Teheran will play an important role.

Mishra’s main interaction will be with his Iranian counterpart Hasan Rohani. But he will also meet President Mohammad Khatami and foreign minister Kemal Kharazzi during his two-day stay.

Apart from Iraq, Mishra is likely to discuss the developments in Afghanistan, particularly the re-grouping of Taliban along the border with Pakistan. The two sides have worked closely with each other in sustaining the Northern Alliance since the days of Taliban’s domination.

Even after the Karzai regime’s ascent to power, the two sides feel that stability and peace cannot return till the student militia and the al Qaida are wiped out.

Iran, seen by the US as part of the “axis of evil”, is worried about the presence of American and British troops so close to its borders. Teheran is of the view the troops should leave Iraq at the earliest and a new regime be put in place in Baghdad with UN initiative. The US had yesterday warned Iran against interfering in Iraq.

India also wants the UN to play a key role in the reconstruction of Iraq, but it realises that the US will have a presence there for a while. It would, therefore, like the support of the US to ensure that Delhi is included in the re-building.

Indo-Iranian relations have been on a high for the past few years and a serious attempt has been made to deepen political, economic and cultural ties.

The invitation to President Khatami as the chief guest for this year’s Republic Day celebrations, despite America’s views on Teheran, indicated the upswing in bilateral ties.

The two sides have already reached an agreement on supply of Iranian gas to India. During Khatami’s visit to the country, an important document — a roadmap to strategic cooperation — was signed. The agreement is an attempt to link India to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe through Iran.

This involves boosting non-oil trade and investment in infrastructure projects, including the ongoing discussions between India and Iran to develop the Chahbahar port complex and the Chahbahar-Faharaj-Bam railway link.

A marine oil tanking terminal at an agreed location and Iranian interest to participate in infrastructure projects in India have already been discussed.

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