M A I N   N E W S

Pipeline can be a reality: India
Satish Misra
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 29
India and Iran today made an earnest effort to put strained bilateral ties back on rails as visiting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resolved to triple the bilateral trade to $ 30 billion in the next few years and work with Pakistan to complete the IPI gas pipeline as an 'assured and secured source of supply' of vital energy input. While the two delegations covered the entire gamut of bilateral relations, their focus was on making a thorough review of the progress on trilateral Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline and boosting the bilateral trade.

Briefing newspersons after about three-hour-long talks, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said, "The IPI was doable and it has to be ensured that the source of gas supply was secure and assured" The officials of the three countries would meet at an early date to continue discussions on the $ 7.1 billion project.

Asked when the deal was expected to be signed, Menon said, "If we have an assured project we can sign tomorrow."

On the negotiations on gas price, the he said the issue was not of treating it as a commercial transaction but to see its potential as a confidence-building measure among the three countries.

Talking about the bilateral trade, which is at the tune of $ 10 billion presently, Menon said that the two leaders decided to take steps to triple it in the next few years.

Officials are going to meet in the coming months to prepare the roadmap for tripling the bilateral trade before the joint commission meeting, which is expected to take place in the middle of the year.

The two leaders also discussed Middle East, Afghanistan and other regional issues, Menon said. The discussions between the two delegations also touched on bilateral and regional issues.

Iran's controversial nuclear programme also briefly figured during Ahmadinejad's talks with Manmohan Singh with the former briefing the later about Iran's nuclear programme.

The IPI project was conceptualised in 1989 by Rajendra K Pachauri and former Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran. Pachauri proposed the plan to both Iranian and Indian governments in 1990. Talks began in 1994 but had been stalled by Indo-Pak tensions and disagreements over transit fees.

Though Ahmedinejad's India visit spanned just four and half hours, it was the first visit by an Iranian Head of State to India in five years and hence was being seen as crucial.

Asked abut the $22 billion bilateral LNG deal, which was signed during the then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's India visit in January 2003, Menon said that the officials of the petroleum companies were in touch and are discussing to reach an understanding.

Asked about Western concerns over Iran, Menon said India saw Tehran as a factor of stability in the region.

The Iranian President's visit took place in the backdrop of Washington asking India to ask Tehran to suspend Uranium enrichment activities for its controversial nuclear programme and abide by its obligations mandated by the UN Security Council.

India has made clear that Iran had every right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme while fulfilling its international obligations.

Asked if there was a change in New Delhi's policy on Iran after India had voted against it at the IAEA, Menon rejected the question saying, "We never see it as a shift. We see it as continuation of the relationship."



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