By Ambassador KP Fabian*
JULY 29, 2016
JULY 29, 2016
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Iran from 22-23 May 2016 is easily one of the best visits in terms of impact, made by this globe-trotting head of government who went to 26 countries in 2015. This visit has to be viewed in context. Iran is a superpower in energy with 10 and 18 per cent of global oil and gas reserves respectively. Treated as a pariah state by Washington since the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis and later put under more sanctions by others too for the absurd charge of enriching uranium, Iran demonstrated singular skill in playing diplomatic chess by concluding the nuclear agreement in July 2015, leading to the lifting of most of the sanctions by January 2016. China’s President Xi Jinping was the first to reach Tehran after the lifting of sanctions.
Any criticism of Modi for not rushing earlier to Iran is misplaced. He correctly chose the sequencing, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, and soon, Qatar. If Modi had gone to Iran first and then to Saudi Arabia, he would have risked a cold reception in Riyadh, of which US President Barack Obama got a taste with the Saudi media not highlighting his visit.
Modi’s meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is significant as such a meeting is rarely accorded to a visiting chief of government or state. The Ayatollah had come to India in the early 1980s when he was deputy minister of defence. Twelve agreements on matters ranging from Iran’s Chabahar Port to foreign office-level consultations were signed. The most important themes covered by the agreements are connectivity, trade, and investment. Pakistan permits Afghanistan to send goods to India via the Wagah border but it does not permit Afghanistan to import from India via the same route. Chabahar Port will give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia. The word ‘Chabahar’ means four springs in Persian, meaning that it is always spring there. There is a road from Chabahar in Iran to Zaranj in Afghanistan, and from there to Delaram (built by India in 2009) which is on the Garden Highway linking the four major Afghan provinces of Herat, Balkh, Ghazni, Kabul, Farah and Kandahar. India will be constructing a railway line in Iran connecting Chabahar to Zahedan.