Iran to participate in India’s refinery sector, port deal close

New Delhi, April 17 (IANS) Iran on Sunday said it will be happy to partner India in the refinery sector as New Delhi issued a statement that it will sign an agreement to invest in the Gulf nation’s Chabahar port to boost trade with Afghanistan.

“Both sides discussed the energy partnership between India and Iran,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup informed the media.

“Iran said it would be happy to participate in the refinery sector in India,” he said.

An external affairs ministry statement issued soon after said that a draft agreement on the Chabahar port in Iran envisioned “trilateral cooperation for providing alternative access to seas to Afghanistan, inter alia for Afghanistan’s trade with India”.

“When the agreement comes into force, it will significantly enhance utilisation of Chabahar port, contribute to economic growth of Afghanistan, and facilitate better regional connectivity, including between India and connections to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The agreement will be a strategic bulwark for greater flow of people and goods among the three countries as well as in the region,” it stated.

The statement also said it has been decided that the agreement would be signed at a high level at an early opportunity after completing necessary internal procedures in the three countries.

This is significant given that Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Iran comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, India’s biggest oil supplier, earlier this month amidst speculation that it might impact New Delhi’s traditional ties with Tehran and the deteriorating ties between the Gulf rivals, especially after the execution of a Shia cleric by Riyadh’s Sunni rulers in January this year.

The execution of Nimr Al-Nimr, a Saudi national and a Shia cleric in January this year, created a volatile situation in the Middle East with the Saudi missions in Iran coming under attack and Riyadh cutting off diplomatic ties with Shia-majority Tehran.

The Indian minister’s visit to Iran also comes in the wake of the lifting of UN-sponsored sanctions on the Gulf nation for it nuclear programme.

Swarup said on Sunday that on the Farzad B gas field, both sides took note of the constructive discussions held during the recent visit to Iran by Minister of State for Petroleum Dharmendra Pradhan.

“The Indian side welcomed the Iranian decision to keep the Farzad B field outside the auction basket. The concerned companies have been directed to complete their contractual negotiations in a time bound manner. The Iranian side had earlier communicated their gas pricing formula and expressed their desire for Indian investment in the Chabahar SEZ (special economic zone),” the spokesman stated.

Iran also said that it fully supported India’s desire to join the Ashgabat Agreement.

The Ashgabat Agreement has Oman, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as its founding members. Kazakhstan also joined this arrangement later.

Accession to the agreement would enable India to utilise this existing transport and transit corridor to facilitate trade and commercial interaction with the Eurasian region.

Sushma Swaraj and Zarif also reviewed the progress made in the International North South Transport Corridor.

A team of experts from India’s IRCON will visit Iran for discussions on the Chabahar-Zahedan railway link, according to Swarup.

“On trade and investment, the two sides agreed that with the lifting of sanctions, the potential for expanding these ties was immense,” he said.

“They agreed that pending agreements such as Preferential Trade Agreement, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Treaty should be concluded on a priority basis.”

India and Iran also expressed satisfaction on the release of fishermen and sailors from each other’s jails.

Given the India-initiated Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT), “both sides took note of the good cooperation between the National Security Council structures of the two countries and agreed to intensify this engagement”, Swarup said.

“In terms of cultural cooperation, given the civilisational links between India and Iran, both sides agreed to promote and strengthen the existing cultural exchanges, inter-alia, by observing Weeks of Iran and India in each other’s country, publication of manuscripts, organising conferences and events related to language, literature and religion,” he said.

In another development, Iran also agreed to positively consider the establishment of a Hindi Chair in Tehran University sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

The two ministers also reviewed global and regional issues, in particular the situation in Afghanistan.

Sushma Swaraj arrived in Tehran on Saturday on the first leg of a two-nation tour. Later, she will travel to Russia.

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