Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi on Friday backed India’s role in the establishment of peace and security in Afghanistan and highlighted the need for a joint plan to elevate relations between Tehran and New Delhi.
Raisi, who was formally sworn in on Thursday, made the remarks during a meeting with external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who represented India at the inauguration. Jaishankar tweeted after the meeting that there is “convergence” between the two sides on regional interests.
Jaishankar’s two-day visit to Tehran coincided with India walking a diplomatic tightrope in its current role as president of the UN Security Council following demands from Britain and the US for a discussion on a deadly tanker attack off the coast of Oman that has been blamed on Iran.
At his meeting with Jaishankar, Raisi stressed the importance of close cooperation and coordination between India and Iran in developing regional peace and stability, according to a statement from the Iranian president’s office.
“Iran and India can play a constructive and useful role in ensuring security in the region, especially Afghanistan, and Tehran welcomes New Delhi’s role in establishment of security in Afghanistan,” Raisi said.
The fate of Afghanistan, Raisi said, “must be decided by the Afghans themselves”. He contended that “if the Americans do not sabotage the situation, this issue will be resolved quickly”.
Iran attaches “special importance” to extensive relations with India, and there is a need for a “joint cooperation programme” to elevate bilateral ties, Raisi said. “From today on, we should take new and distinct steps in the development of bilateral, regional and international relations with a new perspective,” he said.
“By moving in the direction of a joint cooperation programme, we can take steps to bring about different conditions at the level of relations between the two countries in the interests of the two nations,” he added.
Raisi said the Iranian government will pursue a policy of developing ties with neighbouring countries and the region, especially India. “There are various sectors, especially in the economic and commercial fields, as well as new technologies, that we should use to promote the level of our relations,” he added.
Jaishankar tweeted that he had a “warm meeting” with Raisi, during which he conveyed the personal greetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “His commitment to strengthening our bilateral relationship was manifest. So too was the convergence in our regional interests,” he added.
Bilateral ties took a massive hit after India stopped importing oil from Iran in mid-2019 because of sanctions imposed by the former Trump administration. At the time, Iran was among India’s top three energy suppliers. Iran has also been upset at the pace of development of Chabahar port by the Indian side. Recent moves by Tehran to develop a railway line to Chabahar and the Farzad B gas field without Indian involvement have not gone down well with New Delhi.
However, two visits by Jaishankar have helped give fresh impetus to ties, especially at a time when the two countries have similar interests with regard to the situation in Afghanistan. Jaishankar was the first foreign leader to meet Raisi, then the president-elect, during a stopover in Tehran on July 9 while on his way to Russia.
Iran ambassador Ali Chegeni said Jaishankar’s two visits to Iran and meetings with Raisi in less than a month “show the strong will of our leaders to expand bilateral relations and draw a very positive and promising vision”.
However, the Indian side will still have to cope with the diplomatic crisis over last week’s drone attack on the tanker Mercer Street, managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime that killed two crew members – a Briton and a Romanian.
The issue is set to be discussed by the UN Security Council amid claims by Britain and the US that Iran was behind the attack. Tehran has denied any involvement in the July 29 attack.