Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will be on an official two-day visit to India next week as part of the ongoing consultations between the two countries over the situation in Afghanistan and the operationalisation of the Chabahar Port.
It is understood that during his January 7-9 visit, Zarif will hold wide-ranging talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. A meeting with Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan could also take place. He will also call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Zarif’s visit is taking place close on the heels of India taking over operations at the Chabahar port that provides New Delhi with a critical link to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.
India had asked the United States to keep the Chabahar port out of the purview of Iran related sanctions, contending that the port was meant for reaching out to the people of land-locked Afghanistan.
The Chabahar project was recently exempted from sanctions by the Trump administration. The exemption includes the development of the port along with an attached railway project and Iranian petroleum shipments to Afghanistan.
New Delhi has also sought exemption from oil-related US sanctions against Iran while assuring Washington that it was reducing its oil imports from the Islamic nation.
Zarif’s visit will witness the two sides following up on the issues discussed during his last trip to India in May 2018, when the two countries had vowed to not only boost bilateral trade ties but also to identify ways in which the Modi government could support the Iran nuclear deal after the US withdrew from it.
Zarif, who will be accompanied by a high-powered business delegation, will also address a business forum under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII). The main objective of this will be to discuss how the two countries could do business in local currencies.
Iran became India’s third-largest oil supplier during the period April-June 2018, exceeding Saudi Arabia. The total imports from Iran to India stood at $11 billion in April-November 2018, out of which 90 per cent of the shipments comprised crude oil.
On Monday, the Finance Ministry exempted rupee payments made for the purchase of Iranian oil from a staggering withholding tax.
Meanwhile, National Security Adviser (NSA) of Afghanistan, Hamdullah Mohib, is also expected to arrive in India to brief the Indian leadership on the situation in his war-torn nation and seek enhanced security cooperation with New Delhi. He will meet NSA Ajit Doval and other senior officials during the visit.