India, Iran positive on pipeline project

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CONSOLIDATING TIES: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday.
CONSOLIDATING TIES: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Sandeep Dikshit

Ahmadinejad hopes deal will be finalised in near future

NEW DELHI: New Delhi and Tehran on Tuesday inched closer to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline deal with both countries optimistic of an early conclusion to the negotiations.

Asked by the visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whether India was keen to consummate the deal, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh replied in the affirmative, highly placed sources said.

At a news conference later, Mr. Ahmadinejad described the discussions as positive and hoped that the deal would be finalised in the “near future.”

Upbeat on the prospects of the pipeline, he counselled patience and felt the results would be evident in the near future.

The gas pipeline project is crucial for India’s endeavour to diversify its energy sources. However, New Delhi had adopted a lukewarm attitude to the project for over a year and Petroleum Minister Murli Deora broke the stalemate in the talks by visiting Pakistan last week.

“Long road ahead”

Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon reaffirmed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s optimism but cautioned that a long road lay ahead to ensure that the project was commercially viable, financially acceptable to India and all security concerns were taken care of.

“We think it is doable,” Mr. Menon said after three hours of talks between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Dr. Singh, adding that a “lot of work” was required.

“If we have an assured project we can sign tomorrow,” he said when asked when the deal was expected to be signed. The project had the potential to emerge as a confidence-building measure between the three nations, he added.

Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, treated India’s vote against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency Board as a closed chapter and did not think that there was any link with the freeze on a contract for the supply of liquefied natural gas to India.

“Bullying by West”

On the nuclear issue, the Iranian President said the “bullying” by some western countries was primarily meant to prevent other countries from developing their own expertise to generate nuclear power.

“They are not capable of stopping the progress by the people of Iran. They are at the end of the road and should put aside their aggression and bullying.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian head of state to visit India in five years, was given a warm and effusive welcome, according to Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed, who has interacted with him thrice in the past couple of years. Dr. Singh met the Iranian President two years ago at the Havana Non- Aligned Movement summit.

Both Iran and India consider themselves as crucial elements in resolving the conflict Afghanistan and the sources said Dr. Singh and Mr. Ahmadinejad expressed themselves in favour of the Afghan people charting out their destiny through democratic means and rule of law.

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