New Delhi: Days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed a four-nation tour of West Asia and the Gulf region, India will play host to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani from Thursday.
Analysts view Rouhani’s visit as an outcome of India’s deft manoeuvring of new alignments in the volatile region which hosts about 7 million expatriate Indians, and is a source of valuable foreign remittances and energy for India.
Rouhani’s three-day visit is his first to India since he took office in August 2013. “President Rouhani will be accorded a ceremonial reception on 17 February," an Indian foreign ministry statement said on Wednesday.
“During the forthcoming visit of the President of Iran, both sides would review the progress achieved in bilateral relations and also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest," it said. “Besides his official engagements in Delhi, President Rouhani will also visit Hyderabad," it added.
A PTI report said Rouhani will meet intellectuals, clerics and leaders on Thursday and Friday. He will follow it up with an address to the congregation at the Makkah Masjid in Hyderabad after Friday prayers. Rouhani is also expected to visit historic sites in Hyderabad, including the Qutb Shahi Tombs at Golconda.
Ahead of Rouhani’s arrival in New Delhi, a delegation from the National Iranian Oil Company was expected to hold crunch talks with Indian authorities to see whether a pact could be reached on developing Iran’s Farzad-B gas field, a person familiar with the development said requesting anonymity. Iran has shifted the goalposts several times since the start of negotiations on the deal in 2007.
Iran has been trying to reach a better bargain with India after crippling economic sanctions against it were eased following its 2015 nuclear pact with six world powers—the US, UK, Russia, France, China, and Germany, according to news reports.
Iran’s bilateral trade in 2017-18 was $12.89 billion, with India importing $10.5 billion worth of goods, mainly crude oil, and exporting commodities worth $2.4 billion.
The Iranian president’s visit comes amid the emergence of new fault lines in the Gulf region with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and others like Bahrain and Kuwait seen ranged against Shia majority Iran—in tandem with Israel.
For India, Israel is a key partner in its counter-terrorism initiatives as well as its efforts to attract innovation and sophisticated technology to boost manufacturing.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are crucial sources of energy for India and also host a number of expatriate Indians. India was the guest country at Saudi Arabia’s Al Janadriyah Festival last week and Modi was the key speaker at the World Government Summit hosted by the UAE over the weekend.
Rouhani’s visit also comes amid threats by US President Donald Trump to walk out of the international deal reached with Iran in 2015 over its controversial nuclear programme. This complicates matters for India which is looking at Iran’s Chabahar Port as a means to reach out to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia —bypassing the obstacles placed by overland connectivity by Pakistan.
In December, India despatched a consignment of wheat through Chabahar, marking the very first use of the port for sending goods to Afghanistan. This followed India, Iran and Afghanistan signing a trilateral transit pact during Modi’s visit to Tehran in May 2016. In his South Asia policy unveiled in August, Trump had cited a key role for India in global efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.