New Delhi: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make his first official visit to India next week in a sign of the two countries’ ambitions to deepen energy ties despite opposition from the US.
Ahmadinejad will spend only a few hours in India on 29 April in a stop-over after a visit to Sri Lanka. He is due to talk to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a trip that has already sparked diplomatic barbs between New Delhi and Washington.
Energy issues will top the agenda during the visit, a government official said.
Nuclear-armed India, hungry to tap new sources of energy to fuel its booming economy, is looking to Iran as a long-term energy partner.
New Delhi is hoping to kickstart stalled negotiations over a multi-billion dollar deal to pipe natural gas to India from Iran via Pakistan.
New Delhi also wants to revive a 2005 agreement to import 5 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas from Iran.
Washington has opposed the pipeline, which its fears will fund Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The US urged India this week to use Ahmadinejad’s visit to encourage Iran to stop nuclear enrichment. India responded late on Tuesday by saying it did not need “any guidance” on conducting its bilateral relations.
“Both nations are perfectly capable of managing all aspects of their relationship with the appropriate degree of care and attention,” the ministry of external affairs said in a statement. India will also hope to improve diplomatic relations with Tehran after it voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2006, as well as its launch of an Israeli spy satellite earlier this year.
“India is now eager to repair the damage and is looking at its long-term strategic interest by playing their Iran card, like on energy issues,” said Brahma Chellaney at the Centre for Policy Research.
India has been boycotting trilateral meetings on the Iran pipeline since mid-2007, citing it first wanted to resolve the issues of transit fees and transportation tariffs with Pakistan.
The proposed pipeline would initially carry 60 million cu.m of gas daily to Pakistan and India, half for each country. The capacity would later be raised to 150 million cu.m.
Union petroleum minister Murli Deora is visiting Pakistan this week to talk about the pipeline, the first formal contact between the two countries since a new coalition government took office in Islamabad, according to state-run media.
There have been no indications India will discuss nuclear technology with the Iranian president.
Under discussion will be the role of Indian companies in the development of Iran’s energy sector amid US pressure not to invest in the country.
Last year, Essar Oil Ltd backed down from setting up a refinery in Iran that would have violated US sanctions.
Oil and Natural Gas Corp., India’s top explorer, has been in talks to develop oil and gas fields in Iran.
Nidhi Verma and C.K. Nayak contributed to this story.