PM meets Iran Top 2: Signal to US?

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting in Tehran on Wednesday with Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the 16th NAM summit is probably the first move to demonstrate that India will continue to conduct its Middle East policy independent of the US and the west, in face of growing pressure from the United States to cut energy supplies from Iran, as part of its push to get the international community to punish Iran over its nuclear program.

The meeting is unprecedented as Iran’s most powerful leader rarely breaks with protocol and meets with a non-Muslim leader. Dr Singh has resisted US pressure, primarily because — unlike the US — Iran supplies about 12 percent of India’s energy needs. Two-way trade, last year totaled about $16 bn, of which oil imports from Iran accounted for $13.5 billion

India has gradually cut oil imports from Iran, buying more from Iraq and Kuwait even as it circumvents sanctions by instituting a barter deal whereby Iran buys Indian wheat and tea as payment against oil purchases. Sources said a high level joint commission is to be constituted shortly.

More importantly, Singh’s insights gained from his path-breaking Tehran visit could go a long way in helping the world to defuse the growing US-Iran confrontation in west Asia. Susan Rice, the senior US official tipped to step into US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s shoes if President Obama is re-elected was in Delhi recently, ostensibly on a private visit, seeking to hear India out on Iran all the same. India, unwilling to cede its leadership role as one of the founding members of NAM, must also strengthen its links with Tehran, which takes the chair as the head of Nam for the next three years.

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