New Delhi views Tehran as a friend and important source of energy

India and the European Union (EU) made progress on their Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement and nominated minister-level monitors to push for its early finalisation but it was discussions on regional issues, especially Iran and Syria, that took centre stage at their annual summit here on Friday.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy proclaimed that the EU was against a military solution to resolve the Tehran-West standoff over Iran's nuclear programme and asked India to use its leverage with Iran to “bring it back to the negotiating table.”

“So, we are not working for any military option...We are working for a diplomatic solution to get Iran back on the negotiating table and we, according to our analysis, only bring them back to the table under pressure and under sanctions,” he said defending the latest round of sanctions announced by the U.S. and the EU.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh advocated dialogue rather than coercion. He admitted to “problems” with Iran's nuclear programme but said New Delhi viewed Tehran differently from the West — as a close friend and important source of energy to India.

Dr. Singh also indicated India's aversion to a conflict in the Middle East over the Iran question, pointing out that the country wanted peace and stability because of the large number of its nationals (over 60 lakh) working in the Gulf countries.

Iran is India's second largest source of crude but the West has frequently leaned on institutions and countries, ranging from the Asian Clearing Union to Turkey, to cut off the payment route. This has forced India to constantly look for new avenues to pay Iran for approximately Rs. 5,000 crore worth of crude it imports every month from that country.

While the two sides differed on Iran widely with India not in agreement with the West over its plans to impose more sanctions, which are not approved by the United Nations, they seemed to be on the same page on Syria. A joint statement released after the summit also saw both sides adopting a mild formulation on Pakistan.

There was no immediate resolution of complaints by Sikh passengers that they were being asked to take off their turbans during security checks, an insistence which they see as humiliating.

On Syria, the EU and India wanted the world community to back the Arab League's formula for bringing back stability in the country. This solution was brought to the U.N. Security Council but was vetoed by Russia and China, which felt that the West was trying to do another Libya in Syria, a crucial swing country in West Asia.

The joint statement supported a democratic polity in Pakistan and as against India's usual insistence on inserting a line that speaks against those providing sanctuaries to terrorists, settled on stressing the importance of Pakistan to cooperate with countries in the region to eliminate terrorism and dismantle terrorist networks. The statement also wanted an early start to talks on the Fissile Missile Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), which is being resisted by Pakistan.

On Sikhs being asked to take off their turbans during security checks at some EU airports, the statement simply “took note” of their difficulties and “acknowledged the need for effective aviation security measures and discussed the ongoing development of new technologies and methods of addressing security concerns taking into account the dignity of the individuals involved”.

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