External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj arrived in Iran on Saturday on a two-day visit to boost ties with a focus on raising India’s oil imports and enhancing trade with the powerful Persian Gulf nation which has opened several lucrative sectors after sanctions against it were lifted under a historic nuclear deal.
The visit by Ms. Swaraj to the oil-rich country comes amid a rush for investment in the resource-rich nation by global economic powers including Japan, China, the U.S. and several European countries after Iran invited foreign companies for joint ventures in many of its crucial sectors including oil and gas.
India has been eyeing deeper energy ties with Iran and has already lined up USD 20 billion as investment in oil and gas as well as in petrochemical and fertilizer sectors there.
Ms. Swaraj’s visit is seen as a balancing act by India as it came nearly two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Saudi Arabia, another West Asian power which considers Iran its rival.
Iran is an important country for India for its energy security as well as to get access to oil and gas-rich Central Asian nations.
India imports close to 12 million tonnes of crude from Iran and it is looking at increasing the oil import from the country.
Ms. Swaraj will hold extensive talks with her Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday during which entire gamut of bilateral relations will be reviewed with a major focus on ramping up ties in energy, trade and banking sectors.
The External Affairs Minister will also call on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Iran has ended free shipping of crude oil to India and terminated a three-year-old system of getting paid for half of the oil dues in rupees and the issue is likely to figure in talks between Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Zarif.
Iran is now insisting on being paid in Euros for the oil it sells to Indian refiners. It also wants refiners like Essar Oil and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MPRL) to clear nearly USD 6.5 billion of past dues in Euros, according to officials.
Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan had paid a two-day visit to Tehran from April 9 during which he discussed with his Iranian counterpart the repayment of nearly USD 6.5 billion that Indian refiners owe to Iran.
This was the first visit by an Indian Minister since the U.S. and other western powers lifted sanctions against Iran in January.