India-Iran strategic partnership discussed at first Joint Commission Meeting

NEW DELHI: The first India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting (JCM) since the historic nuclear deal and decision to ease sanctions from Tehran discussed measures to expand economic and strategic partnership including increasing oil imports from the Persian Gulf country besides disbursement of pending oil payments, investments by Delhi in Iran’s hydro-carbon sector and tried to iron out irritants to seal the contract for key Chabahar Port by next month.

Iran’s Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Dr. Ali Tayyebnia, who is visiting for the bilateral Joint Commission meeting co-chaired by Foreign Miniser Sushma Swaraj, also discussed with the host the connectivity projects including International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) project and rail link between Chabahar Port and Zahedan.

While Swaraj is yet to travel to Tehran this is the second high-level visit from Iran to India since nuclear deal in Delhi. Iranian Foreign Minister was here in August. Tayyebnia also met the PM. A statement from Prime Minister’s Office said, “Prime Minister conveyed that India attached high importance to its relations with Iran. He recalled his fruitful meeting with President Rouhani in Ufa, on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, in July 2015. Prime Minister expressed readiness on the part of India to further strengthen bilateral relations, including in the areas of trade, investment, oil and gas, connectivity, port development. ”

While this statement did not give specifics there was enough hint that the issues of India’s investment ($ 85 million) in Chabahar Port and Iran’s oil sector, increasing the oil imports from Tehran, joint projects and INSTC were on the agenda of discussions.

At the JCM Swaraj underlined the efforts underway to enhance bilateral economic cooperation in energy, infrastructure – including shipping, ports and railways – and trade and commerce. She stressed that connectivity afforded by Indian participation in Chahbahar Port will facilitate linking Afghanistan and Central Asia with India.

The Iranian side suggested participation of India’s public and private sectors in development of Chahbahar Port and Chahbahar Free Trade Zone (FTZ) and in setting up industrial units in the FTZ, according to a statement by the Indian Foreign Ministry. India has plans to invest $ 15 million in the Chabahar port complex and Swaraj also emphasized the need for early completion of all necessary procedures for India’s participation in Farzad-B field in Iran and pointed out India’s desire to participate in other oil and gas explorations in the Persian Gulf country.

The two Ministers reviewed the progress in trade and economic cooperation and a number of related matters, and discussed the possibilities in cooperation in railways, including by supply of rails, rolling stock, signalling and other works and India’s participation in Chahbahar – Zahedan -Mashhad railway line, according to the Foreign Ministry statement.

The two sides are trying to iron out irritants and conclude contract by January for the expansion project of the strategically located Chabahar Port after over six months Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari had concluded MoU on the project – proposed gateway to landlocked Afghanistan. Earlier differences developed after Iranian port authorities told India that the port building contract had been awarded to an Iranian company Aria Badaner even after the MoU was signed with Delhi.

According to Iranian officials India plans to increase its oil imports from Iran as soon as the international sanctions are lifted. Before the sanctions imposed on Iran, Tehran was providing 16 percent of New Delhi’s oil needs. The figure has reached 6 percent. Iranian officials also stated that it does not intend to keep oil sale incomes in India. Iran wants to receive the frozen money in Euro.

The credit ceiling of the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank of India to Iran has risen to about one billion dollars from 150 million dollars. 250 million dollars out of the amount will be spent on purchasing railroad tracks and related equipment from India. About 750 million dollars of the credit line can be spent on implementation of projects in Iran.

The JCM was preceded by meetings of the Joint Working Group (JWG) on Trade & Commerce (18th-19th November 2015), Joint Working Group on Energy (26th December 2015) and Joint Working Group on Infrastructure (26thDecember 2015).

Source: The Economic Times

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