Even before > India announced Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Iran , it was certain that the Centre was keen on taking ties with this “extended neighbour” to a higher level. The > removal of sanctions on Iran following the nuclear deal has ended its isolation, and enabled its return to the economic and diplomatic mainstream. Over the last few months, Iran hosted several high-profile visitors, including > Chinese President Xi Jinping and > Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi . Three senior Ministers of the Modi government, including External Affairs Minister > Sushma Swaraj, have travelled to Tehran in the past few months to step up engagement, revive some stalled joint projects as well as set the stage for the prime ministerial visit. Mr. Modi’s trip on May 22-23 is expected to bridge the trust deficit in bilateral cooperation and boost energy and trade ties while expediting India’s connectivity plans. Strong ties with Iran are vital for India. The key factor is energy. Till sanctions were imposed on Iran, it was India’s second largest source of crude oil after Saudi Arabia. Once > the Chabahar port in Iran is developed , it will offer India alternative access to landlocked Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. Both Iran and India share the goal of a stable government in Kabul free of the Taliban’s influence. Globally, New Delhi and Tehran are on the same page in their opposition towards groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
Despite these shared interests, bilateral ties took a beating during the sanctions years. >India had voted against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency over its clandestine nuclear programme and, under pressure from the U.S., slashed oil imports from the country by up to 40 per cent during the period. New Delhi had also backed off from a pipeline project that aimed to bring natural gas from Iran to India through Pakistan. But with sanctions removed and foreign countries and companies rushing back to Tehran to seize business and economic deals, it is important for India to reboot relations. Iran also seems keen on pursuing stronger ties with India. The Iranian government had invited Mr. Modi some months ago and expressed interest in expediting stalled projects. Mr. Modi’s visit assumes greater significance in the larger context of his own policy of enhanced engagement with West Asia. The Iran visit comes after his trips to the > United Arab Emirates and > Saudi Arabia and ahead of visits to Qatar and Israel. The government appears to be trying to reach out to the three poles of the region. While it will pursue good ties with the Sunni Gulf for energy supplies, Iran would act as a gateway to Central Asia besides enhancing India’s energy security. Israel remains one of India’s top defence and technology suppliers. The success of this policy depends on New Delhi’s capacity to do the balancing act. The Iran visit is an opportunity to restore equilibrium in India’s foreign policy, which, of late, was seen to be skewed towards Israel and Saudi Arabia.