In a bid to balance India’s relations in West Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to make a visit to Iran later this month. According to sources, the dates are yet to be finalised, but the Prime Minister is likely to travel to Iran between May 21 and May 23.
In the run-up to the visit, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Oil and Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan have made trips to Iran where they held extensive discussions on the agenda for the Prime Minister’s visit, where he will possibly travel to Tehran, Chabahar and visit gas fields of India’s interest. According to officials involved in the planning of the visit, Mr. Modi will have a three-pronged agenda: of connectivity, energy and balance in the region.
Experts say the visit comes not a moment too soon, even suggesting that the Prime Minister should have gone to Iran before Saudi Arabia, given its growing role in the region, and that the Prime Minister had already visited the other Gulf state, UAE.
“This is not the same Iran. It’s a new Iran, a new West Asia, which has been ignored and neglected for a decade and a half by India. So the same mantras are no longer valid in a new strategic environment in which the US has allowed Iran to play a bigger role, after the P5+1 nuclear deal was announced," said former Ambassador K.C. Singh.
Mr. Modi’s visit to Chahbahar follows India’s approval for the Ashgabat Agreement in March, which is aimed at creating International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) connecting India, Russia, Iran with Europe and Central Asia. The visit to Chahbahar is also likely to boost plans for a 1400-km undersea gas pipeline from Chahbahar to the Gujarat coast. Indian investment is aimed at integrating the port into the Indian Ocean Region. Coinciding with Mr. Modi’s visit, the Indian Ocean Region Association (IORA) will host a major international summit in Chahbahar.
During the visit, India and Iran are likely to seal an MoU on the pending energy project at Farzad-B gas field. Last week, Iran’s ambassador to India Gholamreza Ansari had reiterated that the Farzad B gas field project will be exclusively meant for India. The gas field was discovered by a consortium headed by ONGC Videsh in 2008 but had failed to take off immediately due to the western sanctions. Farzad-B gas field has 12.5 trillion cubic feet of gas which can last for 3 decades.
India and Iran who have been security partners in the region are also likely to seal an anti-terrorism deal during the visit.