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Iran Assures India of Gas Supply Through Pakistan


India says a brief visit by the president of Iran does not denote a shift in its relationship with Tehran but is rather a continuation of an attempt to build closer ties, including energy supply. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

What had begun as a re-fueling stop was expanded by India into an official visit here for Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

India, while seeking to reaffirm its traditional neighborly relationship with Iran, has also been developing closer ties with the United States and Israel, both perceived as enemies by Tehran.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has one eye on his domestic constituency, which includes politically important Shia Muslims. Another reason for him to show favor to Tehran is Iran's abundance of energy resources, something India's booming economy desperately needs.

President Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Singh devoted part of their three hours of talks over dinner to a long-proposed $7-billion gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan.

India's Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon says the Iranian president told Prime Minister Singh that India is assured of natural gas if the pipeline is completed.

"He said 'yes'. I mean I think that's our common goal. I think, well, we all want to do that. He also is saying this will be an assured source of supply," Menon said.

Price disagreements and security concerns have stalled the project. The United States, pushing to isolate Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons development, has opposed the deal.

But Foreign Secretary Menon says the relationship should not concern Washington or any other third country.

"I don't think there's anything we are doing with Iran which should worry anybody else," he said. "Everything we do with Iran is open, above board and quite clear to everybody. I don't see that why should worry anybody. Frankly, from our point of view, the more engagement there is, the more Iran becomes a factor of stability in the region the better it is for us all."

Iran was taken aback in 2005 when India joined those supporting the International Atomic Energy Agency's censure of it for violating non-proliferation treaty safeguards.

Since then, defense and other ties between Washington and New Delhi have strengthened. The United States and India are struggling to finalize a civilian nuclear deal amid threats by India's left to bring down Mr. Singh's government if he proceeds with it.

Officials here say President Ahmadinejad and Prime Minister Singh did not discuss the Indo-US nuclear accord nor did they touch on another sore point for Tehran - the January launch by India of an Israeli satellite which experts believe is monitoring Iran's nuclear program.

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