Amid Israel-Hamas ceasefire, Foreign Secretary Kwatra visits Iran for talks

Gaza situation, Chabahar project discussed during Foreign Office Consultations, meet with Iran FM

November 27, 2023 02:45 am | Updated 06:51 am IST - NEW DELHI

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri at the 18th India-Iran Foreign Office Consultations in Tehran on November 26, 2023. Photo: X@MEAIndia via ANI

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Ali Bagheri at the 18th India-Iran Foreign Office Consultations in Tehran on November 26, 2023. Photo: X@MEAIndia via ANI

The Israel-Hamas conflict and India’s investment in the Chabahar port developments were at the top of the agenda as Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra led a delegation in Tehran for foreign office consultations (FOC) with the Iranian government on Sunday.

According to officials, the talks were part of routine bilateral meetings between the two countries, but a detailed discussion on the West Asian situation also took place. A temporary ceasefire in in place in the Gaza conflict as part of a deal to exchange Israeli hostages held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The talks come following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call at the G-20 summit on November 22 for nations to “ensure” that the conflict does not “spill over” to the region, and the hijack of an India-bound ship linked to Israel last week by Yemeni Houthi fighters in the Red Sea.

“The two sides reviewed the entire gamut of bilateral relationship, including connectivity projects such as Chabahar port, political engagements, trade & economic matters, cultural exchanges, people-to-people ties, agriculture cooperation, and capacity building initiatives,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement about the India-Iran talks, adding that they also discussed “regional and global issues, including developments in Afghanistan and Gaza”.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in Israeli bombardment of Gaza following the October 7 terror strikes by Hamas in which 1,200 Israelis were killed and 245 taken hostage.

Israeli leaders have accused Iran of “orchestrating” the attacks, suggesting that they were meant to derail the normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, charges Iran has denied.

The U.S. Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, also said last week that trade and connectivity initiatives in the region like I2U2 (Israel-India-UAE-US) and the India-Middle East-Europe-Economic Corridor (IMEC) launched during the G-20 summit could see a “pause” due to the Israel-Hamas conflict, although in the long-term, the logic of these engagements would prevail.

During the talks, India and Iran discussed their own regional connectivity initiatives, including the Chabahar project where India is developing a cargo terminal in order to connect trade to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and which is also part of the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to Central Asia and Russia via rail.

Apart from the FOC talks with Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs, Mr. Kwatra, who was accompanied by Joint Secretary J.P. Singh and Indian Ambassador to Iran Gaurav Shreshth, also met Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, where they discussed “current challenges” in the region.

“Discussions focused on concretising India’s engagement in development of Chabahar port as a connectivity project. Avenues of increasing broader trade and investment ties were also reviewed,” the External Affairs Ministry said about the Foreign Secretary’s meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy Mehdi Safari.

Mr. Kwatra’s visit followed a telephone call between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on November 6, where they discussed the situation in Gaza, and Mr. Raisi called on India to “use all its capacities to end [Israeli] crimes against the oppressed people of Gaza”.

Mr. Raisi also took part in the Voice of Global South Summit on November 17 chaired by Mr. Modi, and the Ministry said that during Mr. Kwatra’s visit the Indian side “appreciated Iran’s participation” in both such summits held this year.

Since the violence began, New Delhi has not called for a ceasefire, and India abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution that called on Israel to stop the bombardment of Gaza. Most countries in the Global South had voted in favour of the resolution.

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