Tuesday, August 28, 2012

NAM Summit: Prime Minister to embark on crucial Iran visit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would arrive in Tehran tomorrow on a four-day visit to attend the NAM Summit on Thursday, prior to which he will hold crucial bilateral talks with Iran's top leadership, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, ignoring US reservations.

Singh will also be holding bilateral meetings with leaders from other countries, including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on the sidelines of the 16th Summit of the 120-nation grouping.

Ahead of the meeting between India and Iran, New Delhi has made it very clear that discussion on peace and security will be of the paramount concern which will be raised with Tehran.

"Peace and security is, indeed, our primary concern given just how important the entire West Asia region, Gulf region, in particular, is for India's security and for Indian economy, both in terms of oil imports and our exports. So, this is our own concern and we don't have to take anybody else's concern as priority," Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had said in New Delhi.

Singh's bilateral meet with Khomenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumes significance as it will take place at a time when the US is pushing India to reduce engagement with Iran and implement sanctions imposed by some countries over its controversial nuclear programme.

While the West has been trying to underplay Iran hosting the NAM Summit, Tehran sees the event as a major diplomatic achievement.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in his opening remarks at the experts meeting of the Summit yesterday said the grouping should seriously deal with the unilateral economic sanctions imposed by certain countries against its members.

Iran has been slapped with a number of sanctions by the US and the other Western nations which accuse Iran of pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons programme. However, Iran denies the charge and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful use.

The Prime Minister's interactions with Iranian leadership assumes more importance since it was New Delhi that had sought a meeting with Khomenei.

Besides focusing on regional security situation, trade and economic cooperation are likely to be high on the agenda with special focus on oil imports.

Iran is one of the crucial suppliers for oil for energy-starved India. While India recognises only UN imposed sanctions, those levied by US and other countries have become a major stumbling block in making payments to Iran for oil imports.

Singh is also likely to hold meetings with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who would also be attending the Summit.

He would be the first Egyptian leader to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution.

Another important attendee would be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who ignored US requests of giving the Summit a miss.

Controversial Iranian nuclear programme, Syria crisis and regional issues are likely to dominate the summit.