India and Iran on Monday pledged to combat terrorism and radicalism as the two nations signed 12 agreements including a “milestone” pact on developing the strategic Chabahar port, giving a boost to economic partnership in the post-sanctions era.
India committed around $500 million for the important port in Iran’s southern coast, which will serve as a “point of connectivity” between India, Afghanistan, Commonwealth of Independent States countries and East Europe.
“We have agreed to consult closely and regularly on combating threats of terrorism, radicalism, drug trafficking and cyber crime. We have also agreed to enhance interaction between our defence and security institutions on regional and maritime security,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
Modi, who is the first Indian prime minister to visit the Islamic nation after 15 years on a bilateral visit after Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was addressing a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after one-on-one talks.
His visit comes months after lifting of international sanctions on Iran following Tehran’s historic nuclear deal with the Western powers over its contentious atomic programme.
Terming terrorism as a “big problem running rife and rampant in the region”, Rouhani said that both the nations have discussed the issue and agreed to share intelligence to combat the menace.
“Due to the importance of stability and security in the region and especially in the countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and because a big problem called terrorism is running rife and rampant in the region.
“The two countries discussed about political issues as well and how they can cooperate on intelligence sharing and how they can get closer to each other in the fight against terrorism and extremism and how they can contribute to peace and stability in the whole region,” Rouhani added.
As regards the economic cooperation, besides developing the Chabahar port, the two sides also signed agreements in diverse fields like trade credit, culture, science and technology as well as railways.
“The bilateral agreement to develop the Chabahar port and related infrastructure and availability of about $500 million from India for this purpose, is an important milestone,” said Modi.
“This major effort would boost economic growth in the region. We are committed to take steps for early implementation of the agreements signed today,” he said.
Chabahar port, located in the Sistan-BalochistanProvince on the energy-rich Persian Gulf nation’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, bypassing Pakistan.
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.
“Chabahar can very well turn into a very big symbol of cooperation between the two great countries,” Rouhani said, adding that it can serve as a point of connectivity among “India and Afghanistan and countries in the Central Asia and CIS countries and also those in the East of Europe”.
Commenting on the importance of Modi’s visit, Rouhani said: “This visit come at a time when we have managed to conclude the nuclear deal and at a time when sanctions are withdrawn and now the ground is prepared more than ever for to further our economic cooperation.”
India and Iran have also agreed to enhance interaction between their defence and security institutions on regional and maritime security.
Terming the “dosti” (friendship) between India and Iran as old as history, he said, “through centuries, our societies have stayed connected through art and architecture, ideas and traditions, and culture and commerce.”
Iran was among the first countries to come forward to help when earthquake struck Gujarat in 2001, said Modi who was the then chief minister of the state.
Describing the agenda and scope of partnership as truly substantial, Modi said, “the outcomes and agreements signed today open a new chapter in our strategic partnership...Expanded trade ties, deeper connectivity, including railways, partnerships in oil and gas sector, fertilizers, education and cultural sphere are driving our overall economic engagement.”
On relationship with India, Rouhani said: “Our relations will go beyond merely trade relation and turn into a full fledged comprehensive economic one.
“When we are talking about economies of the two countries we mean Iran and the countries surrounding it and by that I am talking about a population (of) 400 million people and also when I talk about I am talking about a powerhouse with a population (of) 1.2 billion people.”
Talking about the trilateral Transport and Transit Agreement involving Iran and Afghanistan, Modi said, “It will open new routes for India, Iran and Afghanistan to connect among themselves. India and Iran also share a crucial stake in peace, stability and prosperity of the region.”
Inviting President Rouhani to visit India, Modi said, he would look forward to strengthen the engagement between the two countries.
In this regard he quoted a couplet from legendary Urdu and Persian poet Mirza Ghalib, “Once we make up our mind, the distance between Kaashi and Kaashan is only half a step.”
Modi had earlier said the lifting of sanctions had opened up immense opportunities and India was looking to expand cooperation with the Persian Gulf nation in sectors such as trade, investment, infrastructure and energy.
“India and Iran 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,” he had told Iran’s IRNA news agency.
Modi arrived in Iran on Sunday and offered obeisance at the Bhai Ganga Singh Sabha Gurudwara here.