India: Iran Source of Regional Peace and Stability, Not Axis of Evil

January 9, 2003 - 0:0
TEHRAN -- Iran is a source of regional stability that promotes peace in the region and India strongly believes that it is not a part of "axis of evil", Indian Ambassador to Tehran, Pripuran Singh Haer, said yesterday.

Speaking to the TEHRAN TIMES in an exclusive interview, the Indian top diplomat added President Mohammad Khtami's upcoming visit to India will be another milestone in bilateral ties. Khatami will be the Chief Guest of the National Day ceremonies of India, which is the highest honor accorded to a visiting foreign guest, he added.

Khatami is scheduled to start his official India visit on January 26. A soft-spoken diplomat known for his keen interest in upgrading bilateral ties, Haer said, "Today bilateral relations between India and Iran have depth and variety. We have regular consultations at a variety of levels on bilateral, regional and international issues. We coordinate our approaches on important subjects like Afghanistan, NAM and transit trade through the region. We are both members of organizations such as the Indian Ocean Rim initiative and the G15. Important visits, such as that of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Iran in 2001 and the proposed visit of President Khatami to India later this month contribute significantly to the growth in the bilateral ties. Discussion on issues such as the transfer of Iranian natural gas to India are progressing speedily. People-to-people contacts are rising on the basis of our age-old historical ties and cultural similarities. Overall I am very satisfied with the state of bilateral relations though a lot more can still be done on the commercial side."

The Indian top diplomat added India has a large middle-class and a booming high-tech sector. "We have recognized competence in areas such as information technology, biotechnology, space sciences, automobiles industry, power, textiles and agriculture. Many of these are employment intensive sectors, something that Iran also needs. Our objective is to increase the awareness both among Indian and Iranian businessmen of opportunities in both countries and promote trade and investment flows. Leading Chambers of Commerce & Industry in India like the CII have taken initiatives by sending several delegations to meet with Iranian businessmen. This is my vision of the future -- of two ancient neighboring civilizations, contributing to peace and stability in the wider region and with intensive commercial and economic ties that answer to the socioeconomic aspirations of both peoples."

Touching on the impediments obstructing the development of relations and the ways to remove these impediments he said, "I am glad to note that both India and Iran have the same agenda for expanding and deepening bilateral cooperation.

"Our major thrust at present is to promote economic relations so that they reach their potential. Traditionally, the tendency of the Iranian business community, both in public and private sectors, has been to look to the West for their needs. India has proven capacity in many fields like information technology (IT), pharmaceuticals, automobiles, textile machinery, power, etc. where India would be able to provide goods and technology to Iran at more favorable terms. The challenge is to promote awareness of contemporary realities in India and Iran among the people of the two countries," Haer said.

Developing countries can meet the challenge of globalization by maximizing economic cooperation among themselves. India and Iran can set an example in this, he added.

India is ready to share its experience and expertise with Iran in implementing economic reforms and in its efforts to meet the challenges of economic globalization.

Commenting on Tehran-New Delhi cooperation regarding the rebuilding of Afghanistan, Haer said it is evident that a close understanding between India and Iran was a major factor in ensuring that peace begins to return to Afghanistan. India and Iran need to work together for promoting further peace and stability in Afghanistan. The two countries have shown tremendous commitment to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and cooperation in this regard needs to be stepped up in the coming days.

"As you would have noted, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Mr. Digvijay Singh was here in Iran on January 4 and 5, 2003 to participate in a Trilateral (India-Iran-Afghanistan) Meeting on Transit & Trade With Afghanistan. During the course of this meeting, two important agreements were arrived at -- Agreement on Cooperation in Trade and Agreement on Cooperation in Transit. The three countries have agreed to develop the route Chabahar-Milak-Zaranj-Delaram for conveying relief material and other goods to Afghanistan. It is significant that the Iranian side has offered concessional rates in port and warehousing charges for goods meant for Afghanistan. The most important consignment through this route would be the Indian donation of one million tons of wheat as humanitarian aid to Afghanistan," he added.

Another recent example of Indo-Iran cooperation was the assistance extended by the Iranian government to the transit through the port of Bandar Abbas of a consignment of 40,000 tones of high protein biscuits donated by India for children in Afghanistan. The high level of confidence and cordiality existing between India and Iran has become an important factor in supplying humanitarian aid to Afghanistan; and the two countries would continue to coordinate their efforts in providing assistance to the rebuilding of Afghanistan, he added.

Commenting on Iran-India gas pipeline project he said, India's interest in purchasing natural gas from Iran is well known. Both countries are natural partners in the field of energy as India's energy requirements will steadily increase and Iran has the capacity to meet those requirements.

The Iran-India gas pipeline is a bilateral project between our two countries. The two governments have been seriously examining the project. A working group was set up in 2001 by the two governments to go into the details of this project. The group has held five meetings so far, the last being in Tehran. The options of routing such a pipeline -- overland or deep sea -- are being examined for their feasibility with respect to technology, cost and long-term security of supply. Feasibility studies have been jointly commissioned by the two countries on an equal cost-sharing basis, and are expected to be completed within the next six months, the diplomat said. "We would jointly decide on the route of the pipeline as quickly as possible after the feasibility reports are ready."

On the position of India regarding the issue of globalization and the mechanisms to ward off its negative impacts in Third World countries Haer observed, the current regime of globalization and sustainable development need to be re-engineered to generate large-scale finances for poverty alleviation. The passion for globalization has to be tempered by compassion for its victims. The thinking of developed economies and their actions do not reflect the understanding that for the globalization policies to succeed they should take into account the developmental needs of two thirds of the global population. They often also fail to practice what they preach by denying access to goods and services from developing countries.

India has suggested a global dialogue on development, with the objective of mobilizing resources for poverty alleviation programs in developing countries. A preliminary agenda for dialogue could include: * The accelerated liquidation of external debts of low income and highly indebted countries.

* Poverty alleviation programs specifically aimed at developing countries facing financial crises.

* Stabilization of international prices of primary commodity exports.

* Welfare and development programs for all the world's needy children, for their nutrition, health, education and protection from degrading and hazardous employment.

The global economic order will not work for the North unless it also works for the South.

Touching the relevance of NAM, Hear said, the guiding principle of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) such as Nehru was independence of thought and action. Non-alignment is still a relevant philosophy in international relations because the basic thesis of non-alignment is that we should be able to follow an independent foreign policy. Whether you have a bipolar or a unipolar world or a world that is hopefully moving toward multi-polarity that principle remains valid. Of course, India also recognizes that realities have changed but the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement can still be usefully applied to the changed structure and agenda of international relations. For example despite notable successes in the areas of decolonization and dismantling of apartheid significant challenges remain on some points of the traditional NAM agenda such as on disarmament and elimination of weapons of mass destruction.

However, he said, new challenges have meanwhile come up in areas such as terrorism, environment and the impact of globalization and new technologies on developing countries. The role of NAM in international, developmental and economic issues cannot be overlooked. In the XIIth NAM Summit in Durban the highly uneven effect of globalization and liberalization was discussed.

NAM is seriously involved in creating an enabling environment where developing countries would be able to acquire the requisite capacities to enter, compete and benefit from globalization. NAM as the largest grouping of countries outside the United Nations, has an important role in developing alternative perspectives on all these issues.

The commitment of India to the ideals and principles of NAM remains and we are actively involved in all NAM activity, including preparations for the next summit in Malaysia. We have some ideas on how to revitalize and strengthen NAM and we intend to discuss them with our friends in the NAM such as the Islamic Republic of Iran, Haer added.

India and Iran share centuries of close cultural and civilizational affinities. The peoples of India and Iran are believed to have originated from a common homeland in Central Asia having a common linguistic and racial past. The two neighboring civilizations in the past, have influenced each other in fields of culture, art, architecture and language. Our common civilizational heritage and close cultural links provide a strong basis for a stable and lasting friendship between the two countries.

Iran is geopolitically placed to play a key role in Central Asia and the Persian Gulf region. As a leading Islamic country with huge resources of oil and gas Iran holds much political and economic significance. Developments both in Iran and the international area in the last two years have brought our countries very close. The visit of Prime Minister Vajpayee to Iran in April 2001 saw the conclusion of a Trade Agreement as well as MOUs on cooperation in the fields of power, energy, IT and customs.

He added, we already have active cooperation in the field of railways, shipping etc. The visit of our prime minister has been followed up with visits to India by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh, State National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rowhani and the Minister of Science, Research & Technology Mostafa Moin. From the Indian side too there have been visits by several high level cabinet ministers including the recent visit of Minister of Human Resources Development and Science & Technology Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi.

There is a commitment from the Iranian side to improve economic relations with India at the same pace as the developing closeness in the political field. Bilateral trade has shown an increasing trend. It was of the order of $U.S.2.016 billion in 2001-2002. During the visit of PM Vajpayee to Iran in April 2001, a trade agreement as well as MOUs on technical cooperation, cooperation in power, energy, IT and customs were signed. While there is considerable satisfaction at the development of bilateral relations between the two countries in the recent years, it is to be noted that the level of economic cooperation remains far below the potential. It is hoped that the forthcoming visit of President Khatami to India would act as a catalyst to promote faster and greater economic cooperation between the two countries.

We have strongly argued that implementation issues should first be resolved before we try to widen the WTO agenda. Similarly, the movement toward sustainable development has proved a disappointment. Developing countries are unable to realize fair payments for the sovereign biodiversity resources, and traditional knowledge.

The treaties on climate change and biodiversity have also failed to activate the anticipated investment and technology transfers to developing countries. Industrialized countries have not shown the political will to enhance their overseas development budgets, Haer concluded.