India-Iran talks yield little, focus on nostalgia, potential for progress

With global politics impeding concrete results in India's engagement with Iran, the rare conversation between the leaders of the two countries Wednesday revolved around the potential for progress and nostalgia.

The talks ended with both sides promising to build on this potential, but the subtext was clear that they had reconciled to the fact that staying engaged was the best outcome for now.

In such an environment, source said, ensuring the interactions did not leave a bad taste was a bigger challenge. And here, both sides leaned on their strong civilisational heritage, conducting the conversation with hope rather than acrimony.

With a trilateral agreement on Chabahar port, as hoped by Iran, eluding the two sides, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed to facilitate trilateral and bilateral cooperation on Chabahar which could serve as an "important port for trade and transit to Central Asia and Afghanistan".

The two leaders also agreed to hold regular consultations on Afghanistan and Syria, an advice that was emphasised by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei when the Prime Minister called on him.

In his discussions with Ahmadinejad, the PM underlined the importance for Iran to expand the import basket from India as well as resume importing wheat on which Tehran had raised certain phytosanitary concerns.

On the nuclear issue, Singh expressed hope the P5+1 negotiation process would make progress. He felt it was important for this effort to succeed in the interest of peace and security in the region. The meeting had a strong air of nostalgia. Khamenei recalled the efforts of Mahatma Gandhi to win India freedom, his "brilliant and illuminating visage" and how they served as an inspiration to Jawaharlal Nehru to help build the Non-Aligned Movement.

The Ayatollah, who is also seen as the religious leader of Shia Muslims across the world, said India's religious diversity should not hurt its national unity. Government sources said he told the PM that India's stability and prosperity are a "valuable asset" for Iran.

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