India and Iran will sign a Tehran Declaration, aimed at rebuilding relations, during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's four-day state visit to Iran beginning Tuesday, April 10. The high-profile visit, the first by an Indian premier for seven years, is being seen as a benchmark for a new era in Indo-Iran relations.
Top on the agenda are agreements on energy cooperation, particularly a stalled Iran-India gas pipeline project, according to foreign ministry officials. Mooted several years ago, the project has been shelved as India sees a potential security risk in the pipe running through Pakistan and has instead proposed a sea route.
Agreements on trade, investment protection, revamping of Iranian industry after 22 years of sanctions, railway-signaling projects and training of Iranian defense personnel are also to be discussed.
Vajpayee will address the Iranian parliament on Wednesday and have wide-ranging discussions with President Mohammed Khatami on regional and international issues, particularly the threat of international terrorism.
Iran has been a constant supporter of India in its fight against cross-border terrorism and has also been a critic of the fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Middle East peace process and United Nations reform will also figure prominently in Vajpayee's talks with President Khatami.
The Indian prime minister will address the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines on Thursday and will visit the grave of the poet Hafiz in the ancient city of Shiraz. Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh visited Iran in May last year, when both sides set up a joint committee to consider all aspects of bilateral relations. The first meeting of the committee was held in Tehran in August when the two countries discussed the gas pipeline project.
Trade between India and Iran has been growing. Indian exports to Iran were estimated at $165 million for the fiscal year 1999-2000, while imports totaled roughly one billion dollars. — (AFP, New Delhi)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )