Siddharth Varadarajan

Pranab for dialogue to defuse tense situation

  • "Iran too has the right to carry on peaceful civilian nuclear energy programme"
  • India wants to impart "greater substance and strategic content" to the relationship

    TEHRAN: Amidst rising tensions in the Persian Gulf following the deployment of a second American aircraft carrier group in the region, India on Tuesday declared its opposition to the use of force as a means of resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.

    Speaking to reporters here at the start of a two-day visit to Iran, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the escalating tension over Iran's nuclear programme had to be defused "through dialogue and discussion."

    India, he said, "has all along stated that [the use of] military means is not a solution. The solution has to be found only through dialogue, howsoever strenuous it may be."

    Mr. Mukherjee said it was important for the Iranian leadership to keep international opinion in view, [particularly that of] the International Atomic Energy Agency. "Our advice is that there should not be any further escalation of tension."

    "Like any other country, Iran too has the right to carry on a peaceful civilian nuclear energy programme," the Minister said. "They are also a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, so they have certain obligations under that treaty. Therefore, our position is that the issue should be resolved through dialogue. It cannot be resolved through coercive methods."

    Though India has always emphasised the need for a peaceful solution to the Iran issue, Mr. Mukherjee's opposition to the use of force is significant given growing concerns that the Bush administration might be considering an aerial attack on Iranian nuclear installations.

    While in Tehran, Mr. Mukherjee will meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, National Security Council (NSC) head Ali Larijani, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki and Hassan Rowhani, the special representative of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei to the NSC.

    In an arrival statement, the Minister said India attached great importance to Iran and wanted to impart "greater substance and strategic content" to the relationship.

    On energy-related issues, apart from the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline, Mr. Mukherjee said he was hoping to help bridge the differences that had emerged over the 5 million tonnes of LNG that Iran had agreed in 2005 to export annually to India. Since the contract was signed, the world price of oil has risen well beyond the ceiling envisaged by the gas pricing formula contained in the 2005 agreement.

    Though India insists that the agreed price is binding, Iran argues that the agreement was never ratified by the competent higher body as required by Iranian domestic law and that the sale price has to be revised upwards and submitted to Parliament, or majlis, for approval.

    Asked about U.N. sanctions against Iran, the Minister said that the U.N. Security Council resolution 1737 passed last December "does not cover any of our proposed areas of cooperation."

    In general, India was keen to exchange views with Iran on the political and security situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and the wider West Asian region.

    "We would like to hear their assessment, and also what role they would like to play," said Mr. Mukherjee.

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