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Ahmadinejadís Visit
Trade, investments to be main issues
Satish Misra
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 23
The main engagement of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadís visit to the Indian sub-continent next week is to sign agreements with the Sri Lankan government for setting up an oil refinery and a hydropower project. He is also making brief stopovers at Islamabad and New Delhi to explore avenues of economic cooperation.

The first stopover would be Islamabad on ApriL 28. His main engagements there are meetings with President Musharraf and newly elected Prime Minister Geelani. While this provides an opportunity to the Iranian President to acquaint with the new leadership in Pakistan, they would also be discussing bilateral cooperation and the proposed oil pipeline. Indian petroleum minister Deora is currently in Pakistan for discussions on the pipeline.

Ahmadinejad would arrive in New Delhi on April 29. According to experts, Sri Lanka is looking for enhanced cooperation with Iran. Besides two mega projects being signed during the visit in Colombo, the two countries are also exploring prospects of military supplies to Sri Lanka.

Recently, a Sri Lankan delegation had visited Iran and Israel to seek military supplies for the ongoing fight against the LTTE. Pakistan and China have so far been providing military supplies to Sri Lanka, but increased requirements and problems of payments appear to have led Colombo to seek new suppliers. Iranian leaderís talks with India would mainly be focused on energy supplies and regional political issues.

India enjoys close relations with Iran as the two have similar foreign policy objectives in the region, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Experts say India, Iran and Russia coordinated their policies in helping the then Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban regime.

Iran has also provided India a trade corridor through Bandar Abbas port to reach central Asian republics while Pakistan continues to deny any such facility through its territory. Iran is also a major source of supply of oil and gas to India and the latter signed a number of agreements for exploration rights in the formerís territory. The two, along with Pakistan, are in talks on a pipeline for supply of gas, which is crucial for Indiaís economic growth. While the US urges India to talk tough with Iran, New Delhi has no such intention in the context of its relations and regional interests.

India upholds Iranís right to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy while fulfilling its international obligations. Indian leaders are expected to reiterate the known stand. The US must understand Indiaís compulsions and its regional interests and it cannot expect New Delhi to jeopardise them. India has similar strategic interests in its relationship with the US and will continue to work for strengthening the same.

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