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Iran's President to Visit India to Discuss Energy Issues


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to make a brief visit to India before the end of the month. It will be the first trip to the South Asian nation by an Iranian head of state in five years. Discussions are expected to include a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. As VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi, India's long-standing and friendly ties with Iran put it at odds with U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran over its controversial nuclear program.

Indian government officials say Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make a brief stop in New Delhi before the end of April on his way to Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

The first visit by an Iranian president to New Delhi in five years comes amid U.S. efforts to have India and other nations increase pressure on Tehran to halt its suspected nuclear weapons development program.

The diplomatic relationship between Iran and India suffered after 2005, when the government here supported an International Atomic Energy Agency vote finding Iran in non-compliance with its international nuclear obligations.

Research fellow Shebonti Ray Dadwal at India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses says ties, however, are improving.

"Over the last few months I think India has again put Iran back on the focus of its diplomatic relations," Dadwal said. "Relations had really, I think, gone down to a large extent. But now it's back on track."

India's national security adviser, M.K. Narayanan, confirmed Sunday that the Iranian leader would visit New Delhi "shortly." India favors diplomatic engagement with Iran, while the United States prefers an approach of isolating the Islamic republic in response to its nuclear ambitions.

Narayanan contends that India, as home to the world's second largest Shia Muslim population, should view its relationship with Iran as a domestic issue as much as it is a foreign policy matter.

Narayanan, in comments made to an international strategic forum in New Delhi, flatly rejected India joining any multi-national compact to pressure Iran over the nuclear issue. The national security adviser says India is better situated than any other nation to talk with Iran and New Delhi wants to avoid what he called "conflict diplomacy."

India has another reason for deepening its long-standing relationship with Iran. With a booming economy and a serious shortage of energy, India hopes to tap Iranian natural gas through a planned 2700 kilometer pipeline that would transit Pakistan.

Talks among the three countries' petroleum ministers concerning the multi-billion dollar pipeline project are due to resume Wednesday in Islamabad.

Analyst Shebonti Ray Dadwal says the project, in the works for many years, still faces barriers before any gas would begin flowing through Pakistan to India.

"Officially the big hitch is pricing," Dadwal said. "They (Iran) had promised to sell it at a much lower price. Now they suddenly almost doubled the price. So that is a problem for India and Pakistan. Between India and Pakistan also the transit fee issue has yet to be resolved."

Another hitch, analysts say, is strong U.S. opposition to the project.

Also still pending is a deal for the export of five million tons of liquefied natural gas over 25 years from Iran to India. That contract, estimated to exceed $20 billion also faces a price dispute.

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