New Delhi: Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will arrive in India Tuesday for a four-day visit to push New Delhi to resume oil purchases and expedite work on the Chabahar Port project, ThePrint has learnt.
The visit comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and the US over the Washington-ordered drone strike that killed senior Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month.
It was amid tensions between Iran and the US over the former’s nuclear programme that Washington prevailed on India and other countries to cut oil imports from the West Asian country, one of many sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on Tehran.
India stopped oil imports from Iran in May last year.
Zarif’s trip defies widespread speculation that he would cancel the visit in the wake of Soleimani’s killing and the ensuing row between Washington & Tehran.
Ever since Soleimani’s assassination, Zarif and Jaishankar have spoken on the phone many times to discuss ways to de-escalate tensions between Iran and the US.
Discussions on the matter also formed part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron Monday.
While in India, official sources told ThePrint, Zarif will “gently pressure” New Delhi to take a stand in Tehran’s favour.
“This is also an opportunity for Iran to show the world that it is not isolated and that it still has friends in the neighbourhood,” said a senior Indian official.
“For India, it will be a good opportunity to have a conversation and understand where they stand on the entire issue as the situation in the region changes,” the official added.
While in India, Zarif will meet PM Modi Wednesday followed by a meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar Thursday. He will also take part in the Raisina Dialogue, an event organised by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Delhi-based thinktank Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
Zarif will also be visiting Mumbai Thursday to meet members of the Indian business community and exporters with a request that they conduct business with Iran.
In Mumbai, he is expected to meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
‘No plans to resume oil imports’
According to officials, however, India will not be resuming oil purchases from Iran “anytime soon”.
India, sources said, was anyway facing an uphill task trying to convince the Trump administration about its purchase of defence equipment from Russia, another nation with whom the US discourages dealings through sanctions.
New Delhi will thus not take additional risk by buying crude from Iran, the sources added.
“Under the present circumstances, there is no room even for a discussion on resuming oil purchases and risk coming under US sanctions. Our equity with the US is much more than with Iran,” said an official.
The official added that the Chabahar project — a port project in Iran that is being built with Indian assistance and will allow India alternative access to central Asia (the only route right now is through Pakistan) — had also borne the brunt of Washington-Tehran tensions.
Work on the project, the official said, was slowing down, “much to the discontent of the Iranians”, because foreign suppliers and shipping firms do not want to risk US sanctions.
The official said this was happening despite the US granting India a waiver for dealing with Iran for Chabahar.
Last year, the US had told India that it will exempt the Chabahar project from sanctions since it is linked to the development of Afghanistan.
Veteran diplomat and former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said resumption of oil imports from Iran would not be “feasible, especially at this moment”.
“This will further complicate India’s relationship with the US, which is really not needed now,” he said.
“Iran also understands that. They are happy that India has not stopped sending rice and pharmaceuticals to Iran despite all problems and Iran wants them to continue,” he added.
India has been exporting rice and pharmaceutical products to Iran because trade in these items doesn’t invite sanctions from the US.