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Setting the tone for PM’s Iran visit

What indeed is the significance of this visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Iran? First, it is not a ‘bilateral’ — although there will always be scope to discuss bilateral issues on the sidelines of an international event. 
My mind goes back to March 1983. The trials and tribulations of hosting a NAM Summit could be extremely taxing on resources. Almost the entire Ministry of External Affairs was summoned to ensure that the summit passed off without hiccups.  
For Iran too this is a golden week when it takes to the world podium and commands attention. Iran is far too sophisticated a nation not to comprehend the immense possibilities of the occasion for showcasing its genuine profile as a reasonable, responsible regional power which could be a factor of stability in the world order. Iran’s detractors in the West, in fact, have already fallen silent. The foreplay has ended.
In sum, don’t look for our PM to get into tortuous negotiations over the Farzad-B gas fields. Nor to settle the nitty-gritty of the ‘rupee-payment’ for Iranian oil. Or to kickstart the moribund Iran gas pipeline project, or even to inject life force into the 30-year old idea of a ‘Chhabahar route’ for India’s exports  to Central Asia and beyond.  
Of course, this visit will be on ‘low-key’. What else could we expect? It is not PM’s intention to travel to Tehran to usurp Iran’s hour of glory. Or to walk in with a swagger and and tell the 2 kings and the 29 heads of states in town that we Indians are the lords and masters of the manor. Be reasonable. 
But, alas, the ‘curtain-raisers’ in the Delhi papers are playing down PM’s visit and the reports are attributed to ‘sources’. The faceless ‘sources’ seem nervous that PM’s visit to Iran might upset some third country (or countries). To my mind, it is always possible to tell the Americans that this is a NAM summit and as a founder-member of that historic movement, India is obliged to be duly represented at the summit in Tehran. That is, if we owe explanation to anyone. 
Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai gave a brilliant press briefing. It set the correct tone on the upcoming  highly-complex political spectacle in Tehran. Why spoil a neat, professional job? Pray, at whose behest? 
The Tehran summit comes at a crucial juncture in world politics. It might sound a bit of a cliche but the NAM is at a crossroads. The international situation if fluid, is increasingly dangerous, the international system is breaking down, and there are ‘miles to go before we sleep’. 
One core issue is the upheaval in the Middle East. India should have something worthwhile to say when a war is in the offing in one Middle Eastern country (which also happens to be a senior member of the NAM), another is being threatened, and there is likelihood of our ‘extended neighborhood’ going up in flames. 
Since MEA has sought meetings for PM with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Syria’s PM Halqi and Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi, amongst others, I suppose we are in serious business this week and PM will be in the first circle of regional politics.

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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