Tuesday, August 28, 2012

NAM Summit: Manmohan Singh leaves for Tehran

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left Tuesday for Tehran on a four-day visit during which he will attend the 16th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and hold a bilateral meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Meetings are also planned with Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as also with the leaders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Egypt.

The visit takes place amid mounting pressure from the West on Iran over its nuclear programme.

The world will be closely watching when Manmohan Singh meets Ahmadinejad Wednesday.

The two sides will discuss a range of issues, including different ideas on pushing the Chabahar port project that has several components, including a rail link to Afghanistan.

Ahead of the meeting, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai has said that India would seek to scale up trade with Iran. He said that economic relations with Iran have been improving for the last two years.

"Our relations have been strong. As for trade, the balance is in favour of Iran and we would concentrate on increasing trade," said Mathai, who Sunday attended an India-Afghanistan-Iran meeting in Tehran prior to the NAM summit.

India's imports from Iran in 2011-12 were at $12 billion and exports totalled $3 billion.

On the strategic plane, the two sides will explore possibilities of working closely on Afghanistan in view of the expected withdrawal of the international combat troops by 2014.

Pressed whether India would convey the US concerns on Iran, Mathai replied: "Peace and security are our (India's) primary concerns. This is our concern and we don't have to take anyone else's concern as a priority."

At the Aug 30-31 NAM summit, Manmohan Singh is expected to pitch for injecting oxygen into the 120-member NAM, the largest gathering outside the UN, in the context of the shifting world order.

Asked about India's expectations from the summit, Mathai said: "NAM remains as relevant today as when it was created (in 1961). We need to re-invigorate the movement for a greater focus on the issues of global governance, reform of international institutions, food security and energy.

"The time has come to give grater emphasis to global issues," he added.

This will be Manmohan Singh's third NAM summit after Havana (2006) and Sharm el Sheikh (2009). Manmohan Singh returns home on Friday.