Tehran: Looking to strengthen trade, investment and energy ties with Iran, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday arrived here on a two-day visit, during which a crucial agreement is expected to be signed on developing the strategic Chabahar port.
Modi, who is the first Indian Prime Minister having visited Iran in the last 15 years, was received at the Mehrabad International Airport by Iran's Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Ali Tayyebnia, after which he left for a local Gurudwara to meet people of Indian origin here.
Formal talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are scheduled for tomorrow morning after a ceremonial welcome for the Prime Minister. Rouhani will also host a lunch for him.
Modi will also call on Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well before his return.
Modi started his Tehran visit with a visit to a Gurudwara. “It is my pleasure that my 2-day visit to Iran has started with me seeking blessing from Guru Granth Sahib,” Modi said, speaking at the Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha Gurudwara in Tehran.
Ahead of his arrival, Modi in a series of tweets said, "Enhancing connectivity, trade, investments, energy partnership, culture and people to people contacts would be our priority."
"My meetings with President Rouhani and Hon'ble Supreme Leader of Iran will provide an opportunity to advance our strategic partnership," the Prime Minister added.
Besides signing a deal on development of Phase-1 of the Chabahar port, India is looking at doubling oil imports from the Persian Gulf nation, which a few years back was its second-biggest oil supplier, as well as making progress on getting rights to develop a giant gas field in the energy-rich country.
India's Road Transport, Highways and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari will also be present there for the signing of the agreement on Chabahar port.
Post-sanctions Iran has seen a flurry of diplomatic and business activities with leaders from China to Korea courting Tehran.
In the run-up to Modi's visit, Transport Minister Gadkari, Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Tehran.
Stating that he looked forward to the conclusion of the Chabahar agreement during his visit, the Prime Minister said "India and Iran enjoy civilisational ties and have shared interest in the peace, security, stability and prosperity of the region."
Besides visiting Gurudwara, he will also inaugurate an International Conference on 'retrospect and prospect' of India and Iran relations.
"I am looking forward to my visit to Iran today & tomorrow, at the invitation of President Rouhani," he added. In an interview to Iran's IRNA news agency before of his arrival here, Modi said the two countries have "always focused to add strength to our relations, even during the difficult times. In the current context, both countries can look to expand our cooperation in the fields of trade, technology, investment and infrastructure and energy security."
Stating that India's public and private sector firms were keen on investing in Iran, he said the signing of agreement on development of Chabahar port will provide wider connectivity.
Chabahar is a port in South-East Iran that will enable India to bypass Pakistan and open up a route to land-locked Afghanistan with which New Delhi has close security ties and economic interests.
"Lifting of the international sanctions against Iran has opened up immense opportunities for both the countries, especially in the economic sphere," Modi said, adding India is keen to enhance its investment in the Persian Gulf nation and also welcomes flow of capital and investments from there.
The energy sector, he said, was one of the most important dimensions of bilateral economic ties and with investment in development of Farzad-B gas field, the relationship would go beyond the buyer-seller dealings to being genuine partners.
On impending meetings with Iranian leaders, Modi said: "Iran is part of our extended neighbourhood, an important nation in the region and one of India's valuable partners.
"We are connected with each other by the shared history and civilisational ties. We have shared interest in peace, stability and prosperity of the region. Combating the menace of international terrorism and radical ideologies is a common challenge."
He further said taking concrete steps for enhancing regional connectivity is one of the most important and promising dimensions of the ties between India and Iran.
"Building a genuine energy partnership, cooperation in the infrastructure, ports, railway and petrochemicals sectors and developing the age-old civilisational ties through people-to-people exchanges in the modern times will also be a priority," Modi said.
An agreement on state-owned Nalco setting up a 5-lakh tonne per annum aluminium plant in Chabahar free-trade zone is also to be signed tomorrow.
From Chabahar, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan, about 883 kms from the port. The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan's Garland Highway, setting up road access to four major cities in Afghanistan -- Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-Baluchistan Province on Iran's southern coast, is of great strategic utility for India. It lies outside the Persian Gulf and is easily accessed from India's western coast.
The port project will be the first overseas venture for an Indian state-owned port. India and Iran had in 2003 agreed to develop Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman outside the Strait of Hormuz, near Iran's border with Pakistan.
But the project moved slowly because of western sanctions against Iran. The sanctions were lifted in January and since then, India has been pushing for conclusion of an agreement.
About a fifth of the oil consumed worldwide each day passes through the Strait, a shipping choke point that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.
Indian investment in phase-1 will be in excess of USD 200 million, including USD 150 million line of credit from Exim Bank, an agreement for which would also be signed during the visit.
Besides signing of commercial contract for Chabahar Phase-1, Modi will witness signing of a trilateral agreement on transport and transit corridor among India, Afghanistan and Iran.
The trilateral agreement is seen to significantly enhance prospects of India's connectivity with Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond such as the North-South corridor. Modi and the Iranian president are also likely to review peace and stability in the region which faces several challenges, including terrorism and violent extremism, besides cyber crime and maritime security.