Assumption Of Resumption
Ahead of Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s visit to India later in November 2021, the West Asian nation’s Ambassador to New Delhi Ali Chegeni expressed hope that Iran and India would open a new chapter in bilateral ties under the leadership of new President Ebrahim Raisi. The envoy said that his country wanted friend India to resume importing oil from Iran soon. It may be noted that the Narendra Modi Government stopped purchasing crude oil from Iran in 2019, under pressure from the Donald Trump Administration in Washington DC.
Talking to the Indian media in the first week of November, Ambassador Chegeni stressed that Iran was all set to take its ties with India to the next level. According to the envoy, Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian would reveal Tehran’s plan to boost bilateral ties during the upcoming India-Iran Joint Economic Commission meeting in New Delhi. The envoy stated: “We have no limit, no ban, no barrier in developing our relationship with India… India used to be our big customer of oil, and we were the first country to export oil to India based on the Indian Rupee. It was recognition of the Rupee as international currency, instead of using the US Dollar or some other currency. We did that also to buy commodities from India.”
The envoy further said that Iran was ready to export oil and gas, petrochemical and even non-petroleum products to India, as “there is a big capacity”. He hinted that the bilateral trade, which had exceeded USD 17 billion in 2018-19, could reach USD 30-35 billion by the end of 2021, had the oil imports not been stopped by India. “If India starts importing oil, gas and other items from Iran, then both sides can have balanced trade.” stressed Chegeni.
According to Ambassador Chegeni, Tehran is also ready to resume discussions on the development of Farzad B Gas Field with New Delhi. It is unfortunate that the negotiations on this particular issue, which had been going on between the two countries for over a decade, suffered a setback due to the US pressure, he said. In 2008, ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL), the Indian Public Sector Oil and Gas Corporation, discovered this field spread across the maritime boundary of Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. Later, the OVL also expressed desire to develop this field. During his visit to India in February 2018, the then President of Iran Hassan Rouhani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to move bilateral ties beyond the traditional buyer-seller relationship, especially in energy partnership. However, Iran decided to implement the project on its own in May 2021, giving the contract to a local company. Interestingly, Ambassador Chegeni said that “the door is still open for India for Farzad B”!
The Iranian envoy urged India not to remain hesitant on the development of Chabahar Port, saying that although New Delhi considered the Chabahar Port project as the Golden Gateway to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, the Government of India reduced its activities in Chabahar in the last couple of years. “Chabahar, on paper, is not covered by the US’ illegal sanctions,” stressed Chegeni. The envoy advised India not to stop investing and working in Chabahar because of any “third party scare”.
At the same time, the Iranian ambassador admitted that the changing political scenario in Afghanistan might have prompted India to adopt a wait and watch policy on Chabahar. He assured the Modi Administration that Iran shared similar views as India on Afghanistan, stating that Tehran would take part in the National Security Adviser-level (NSA) talks on Afghanistan in New Delhi that would be hosted by Indian NSA Ajit Doval. Interestingly, Tehran hosted a meeting of Afghanistan’s neighbouring and regional countries in October. However, India was not invited to join the meeting that was aimed at pushing the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan to establish an Inclusive Government. Chegeni defended Iran’s decision, saying that it was an initiative of Pakistan. Hence, inviting India depended on the entire group. Apart from Iran and Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, China and Russia attended the meeting. As for the NSA-level talks, the ambassador stressed: “We seek Indian participation in different formats as pushing our ideas, strengthening our ideas. So, we welcome Indian presence in all different formats. We share similar views and we see India’s presence in Afghanistan can solve the problem and that will bring peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Chegeni made it clear that Iran would never allow Afghanistan to become a place from where terrorists would be used against neighbouring and regional countries. “People of Afghanistan have the right to enjoy a good life. We feel the fire in our neighbouring country will bring the fire at home. Instability in Afghanistan will also affect the neighbouring countries,” he told the press.
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