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India and Iran to strengthen economic ties

September 07, 2006

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NEW DELHI, Sept 6: India and Iran on Wednesday agreed to speed up economic cooperation amid a raging debate on Tehran’s nuclear programme and the looming threat of UN sanctions.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and both expressed “satisfaction at the current state of bilateral relations,” during their 15-minute conversation, an Indian foreign ministry statement said.

They “agreed that a strong and vibrant India-Iran relationship is of strategic importance for both countries and would be beneficial for peace and prosperity of the entire region.”

Singh and Ahmedinejad agreed on “the need to accelerate the implementation of all ongoing cooperation projects including those in the energy and transport infrastructure sectors,” the statement added. The conversation follows a visit by Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari’s to New Delhi on August 29.

India had emphasised the importance of Iran honouring the Liquified Natural Gas deal signed in June 2005 during talks with Safari, an official who preferred to remain unnamed said.

Under the 22-billion dollar agreement, India was to get five million tons of gas annually over a 25-year period from 2009. The deal is still awaiting Tehran’s approval.

During Safari’s visit, New Delhi and Tehran also “reaffirmed their commitment” to another multi-billion dollar gas pipeline that will transport gas from Iran’s southern Pars field to India via Pakistan.

The telephone call on Wednesday comes as the United States pushes for UN Security Council sanctions to be imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme, which Washington contests is a cover for nuclear weapons development.

IRAN-EU TALKS: High-level European Union-Iranian talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme that were expected on Wednesday have been postponed but could be held on Friday, a senior Iranian diplomat said.

Aliasghar Soltanieh, Iranian ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog agency, told Reuters that the talks — which were tentatively set to take place in Vienna — were put off for unspecified procedural reasons.

“Yes, the talks were cancelled for today. They will be convened in Vienna in a couple of days. Possibly Friday or so. But it’s not sure (yet),” Soltanieh said.

Asked why the talks were put off, he said: “Nothing specific. It was just a matter of procedural arrangements, and the ability of the two parties to get together. It may be more convenient for both parties to meet at that time (Friday).”

The talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani were intended to explore Iranian hints that it could negotiate on the scope of its nuclear programme. Iran defied an Aug. 31 deadline to stop enriching uranium or risk sanctions by the UN Security Council.

Tehran says it is pursuing a civilian nuclear programme to generate electricity. Western leaders suspect a disguised drive to build atomic bombs.—Agencies