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New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday said he had a "very fruitful" meeting with his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Amir Hatami during which the two discussed ways the peace process in Afghanistan as well as ways to strengthen bilateral cooperation.

Singh's visit to Iran is seen as significant coming as it does after he voiced India's concern about the situation in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf during the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in Moscow on Friday. Singh was in Tehran on a transit halt after concluding his three-day visit to Russia where he attended a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) defence ministers. He also held bilateral talks with his counterparts from Russia, China and the Central Asian republics.

"Had a very fruitful meeting with Iranian defence minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in Tehran. We discussed regional security issues including Afghanistan and the issues of bilateral cooperation," Singh said in a Twitter post.

"Both the Defence Ministers discussed ways to take forward bilateral cooperation and exchanged views on regional security issues, including peace and stability in Afghanistan," Singh's office said in a separate Twitter post on the meeting held at the request of the Iranian defence minister. The talks took place in a "cordial and warm atmosphere," it said, adding that the leaders referred to the cultural, linguistic and civilisational ties between India and Iran.

Iran’s IRNA news agency noted that Singh was the first top Indian official to visit Iran since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to travel across the globe, it noted. Iran and India enjoy traditional friendly ties. Iranian and Indian officials hold regular consultations on close cooperation to ensure regional peace and security, the report added.

India has been keeping a close watch on the evolving political situation in war-torn Afghanistan after the US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February. The deal opened the doors for the US to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, effectively ending Washington's 18-yearlong stay in the country.

In his address at the combined meeting of defence ministers of the SCO on Friday, in the Russian capital, Singh said that the security situation in Afghanistan remains a concern.

"India will continue to support the efforts of the people and government of Afghanistan for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace process," Singh said in his speech at the SCO meet.

India has been supporting a national peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and New Delhi has said that care should be taken to ensure that any such process does not lead to any "ungoverned spaces" where terrorists and their proxies can relocate.

According to a recent UN report, as many as 533 Afghan civilians - including more than 150 children - were killed in war-torn Afghanistan due to fighting.

There have been global concerns over Pakistan's support to the Taliban and other terror groups operating in Afghanistan.

At the SCO meeting, Singh had also voiced India's concern over the situation in the Gulf region, vital for the country's energy needs. A series of incidents in the Persian Gulf involving Iran and the US in recent months have flared up tension in the region. "We are deeply concerned about the situation in the Persian Gulf," Singh said in his address at the SCO meeting on Friday.

"We call upon countries in the region - all of which are dear and friendly to India, to resolve differences by dialogue based on mutual respect, sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs of each other," Singh said.

Iran has threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the US, which has already imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear programme, tries to strangle its economy.

India and Iran have strong commercial, energy, cultural and people-to-people links. India-Iran commercial ties were traditionally dominated by Indian import of Iranian crude oil. In 2018-19 India imported $ 12.11 billion worth of crude oil from Iran. India however suspended oil buys from Iran after the US ended its six month waiver for those countries importing from Tehran after walking out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Bilateral trade during 2019-20 was $ 4.77 billion, as a consequence, a decrease of 71.99 % as compared to the numbers in 2018 which stood at $ 17.03 billion.

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