Indo-Iran talks to focus on gas transport

NEW DELHI, JULY 12. Energy, security and Afghanistan will be among the many issues that will figure in the wide-ranging talks between India and Iran here next week.

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Mr. Mohsen Aminzadeh, is arriving on July 19 to continue the high-level political dialogue.

While there is no specific focus on any theme, it is expected that the question of transporting natural gas from Iran to India as well as the latest developments in Afghanistan could figure prominently in the talks.

When the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, visited Iran in May, the two sides agreed to set up a Joint Working Group to assess economic and security aspects of natural gas pipelines from the Persian Gulf to India.

The JWG has now been constituted and is scheduled to meet within the next few weeks in Teheran. The JWG will report to the two Foreign Ministers.

The Indian team will be headed by the Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry, Mr. K. V. Rajan. Senior officials from the External Affairs Ministry, Ministry of Petroleum, and the Ministry of Defence will participate in the JWG.

An overland pipeline from Iran, passing through Pakistan, is seen by many as the cheapest option for transporting abundant natural gas from the Persian Gulf to the huge energy market in India.

There are strong reservations in the Government that such a pipeline might give a powerful leverage to Islamabad. Pakistan, which stands to benefit by charging transit fees, has supported the project for an overland pipeline.

India is unlikely to back such a project without substantive security guarantees against disruption of the natural gas supplies by Pakistan.

The JWG will make a technical assessment all options, including on-shore and off-shore pipelines. During his visit to Iran, Mr. Singh insisted that ``there must be a survivable marriage'' between the economic and security aspects of the pipelines from the Persian Gulf to the subcontinent.

The latest developments in Afghanistan, where India and Iran have strong and converging security interests, was also expected to come up for discussion next week.

The two sides are likely to exchange views on the renewed fighting in north of Kabul and the current international efforts to end the conflict.