After Saudi Arabia, Modi to visit Iran

New Delhi, May 17 (IANS) A little over a month and a half after visiting Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to visit Iran on May 22-23.

“At the invitation of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will pay an official visit to Iran on May 22-23, 2016,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

“During the visit, the prime minister will call on the supreme leader of Iran (Ali Khamenei) and will hold talks on a wide range of subjects of mutual interest with President Rouhani,” it added.

Modi’s visit assumes significance given the strained diplomatic relations between Riyadh and Tehran following the execution of a Shia cleric in Saudi Arabia earlier this year.

The execution of Nimr Al-Nimr, a Saudi national and a Shia cleric, in January this year, created a volatile situation in the Middle East with the Saudi missions in Iran coming under attack and Riyadh cutting off diplomatic ties with Shia-majority Tehran.

While Saudi Arabia is India’s biggest oil supplier, Iran is a strategic partner of New Delhi.

“India and Iran share longstanding civilisational ties,” the external affairs ministry statement said.

“Iran is situated in India’s extended neighbourhood and the two countries have significant overlap in their economic and security space,” the statement said.

“The visit of the prime minister to Iran will seek to build on these commonalities by focussing on specific cooperation in regional connectivity and infrastructure, developing energy partnership, boosting bilateral trade, facilitating people-to-people interaction in various spheres and promoting peace and stability in the region,” the ministry stated.

“The visit of prime minister will provide a timely thrust to the ongoing efforts of the two countries and their business entities to expand bilateral cooperation and mutually benefit from new opportunities in the wake of lifting of secondary sanctions against Iran earlier this year.”

In the run-up to the prime ministerial visit, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj visited Iran in April this year during which Tehran said it would be happy to partner India in the refinery sector, and New Delhi said it would sign an agreement to invest in the Gulf nation’s Chabahar port to boost trade with Afghanistan.

The Indian minister’s visit to Iran also came in the wake of the lifting of UN-sponsored sanctions on the Gulf nation for its nuclear programme.

According to an external affairs ministry statement following Sushma Swaraj’s visit, when the agreement comes into force, it will significantly enhance utilisation of Chabahar port, contribute to economic growth of Afghanistan, and facilitate better regional connectivity, including between India and connections to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The agreement would be a strategic bulwark for greater flow of people and goods among the three countries as well as in the region, it stated.

Modi’s visit also assumes all the more significance given that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will also meet him.

It is rare for Khamenei to give an audience to any visiting world leader.

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