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Balancing act: Month after Israel PM Netanhyahu, Iran President Hassan Rouhani arrives today


Written by Shubhajit Roy
| New Delhi |

Updated: February 15, 2018 1:16 am





Iran President Hassan Rouhani India visit Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AP/Files)

A month after hosting Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhyahu for a state visit, India is set to welcome Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on a three-day state visit from Thursday, with bilateral talks scheduled with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday.

The visit – to Hyderabad and New Delhi – is scheduled from February 15 to 17.

This is Rouhani’s first visit to India after he was elected Iran’s President in 2013. A moderate face of the regime, he was re-elected last year for a second term.

Rouhani will also have meetings with President Ram Nath Kovind and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Rouhani’s visit, exactly a month after Netanyahu’s, is seen as India’s act of balancing the relationship in the west Asian region. Iran and Israel have a strained relationship, but since India has “strategic interests” with both countries, government officials said that New Delhi needs to carefully balance bilateral ties with both.

Announcing the visit on Wednesday, the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement that during the visit “both sides would review the progress achieved in bilateral relations and exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest”.

On top of the agenda will be early operationalisation of the Chabahar port, which is strategically located in Iran and gives India access to landlocked Afghanistan.

In early December last year, India had sent a minister for the inauguration of the first phase of Shahid Beheshti Port at Chabahar. Rouhani had presided over the event.

Taking off from discussions held at that time, India and Iran will discuss full and early operationalisation of the Transit and Trade arrangement between the three countries through Chabahar Port. Sources said India’s relationship with Iran is largely driven by connectivity, and there is less emphasis on energy. The development of two terminals at Chabahar to be done by Indian firms is likely to be one of the key issues on the table.

This ties in with New Delhi’s strategic investment plans in the port, which is located close to Gwadar port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, being developed by Chinese firms.

India hosting Rouhani, and its commitment to push forward the Chabahar project, will also test the country’s bilateral ties with the US, which, under the Donald Trump administration, has threatened to impose sanctions on Iran.

Rouhani will start his visit from Hyderabad, where he will address a gathering of Muslim intellectuals and clerics. On February 16, he will address the weekly congregation at the city’s historic Mecca Masjid after offering Friday prayers, sources said.

This will be Rouhani’s second visit to Hdyerabad. He had come to India as the national security adviser to Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami, when they visited India from January 24-28, 2003 as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade and had met then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both sides signed “The New Delhi Declaration”, which set forth the vision of strategic partnership between the countries.

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