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Address by H.E.Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Minister of External Affairs at a Seminar on “India and Iran : Ancient Civilizations and Modern Nations” in Tehran

November 02, 2008

Your Excellency Mr. Manouchehr Mottaki, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. M. Mohammadi, President, Institute of Political and International Studies,

Mr. Amit Dasgupta, Joint Secretary (Public Diplomacy), Ministry of External Affairs

Distinguished guests,

Speaking in Tehran, half a century ago, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said that he doubted if there are any two countries in the wide world which have had such close and long historical contact as Iran and India. Jawaharlal Nehru also said, during that very visit, that even as we take pride in the great past of Iran and India, we have to inevitably come to grips with the present and peep into the future.

I speak before you today in that perspective, with the benefit of a continuing close and rich bilateral relationship between our countries.

There are moments in the history of nations which are of great salience. It is my belief that India is poised at a stage when its creative strength derived from a rich civilizational history, has been unleashed. This may enable a move forward into a future where, for India, the next half century will be very substantially different from the one that has elapsed. In a democracy it is inevitable that the state will use its resources and capabilities to improve and increase the benefits available to its people. Our foreign policy is a key instrument in this endeavor, it will help us realize the goal of a vastly improved quality of life for our people. More than sixty years after our independence, it is worthwhile to examine the considerations that inform and mould the spirit of our foreign policy.

First and foremost is the fundamental principle of independence and freedom of thought and action. We are open to all counsel and manner of views but our assessments and policies are ours alone.

Secondly, we are instinctively multipolar and this inclination to multipolarity draws from the size of our country as also the magnitude of its diversities in terms of faith, language and region.

Thirdly, we have opted consciously for pluralism, secularism and democracy as our own chosen path to development and nationhood. This means that to the existing pluralities and diversities of India, that of political persuasion or belief has been added, which over the years has become as much part of our national fabric as any other attribute.

Finally, we are in the midst of a deep-rooted socio-economic transformation in our country. This major churning nevertheless takes place in a complex and very difficult regional and international environment. We have, therefore, both to engage purposefully with the outside world and yet at the same time keep our own national moorings intact.

Our foreign policy is dictated by the interest of our people for growth and development. This is supplemented by an equally strong impulse of engagement with the world order – but, on terms which our people and our principles would find acceptable. Equity has been at the core of our approach. We also have our own history of colonial suffering and are conscious of the manipulation of international law by those who drafted it. We have therefore consistently urged that multilateralism should be tempered with an appreciation of the inequities in the overarching frameworks governing international order.

We have always played by the rules of the existing world order when we have perceived them to be equitable and consequently agreed to accept them. India has always been a responsible member of the international community. However, when engagement was not possible without compromising the principle of equity and non-discrimination, we did not accept the norms. 'Independence' and 'equality' have always been at the core of our foreign policy, no matter how difficult the circumstances, and even when we stood alone.

Our position on the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) bears this out. In both these treaties, we faced, and sometimes faced alone, the brunt of critical international opinion and pressure simply because we refused to engage on terms which were fundamentally unequal. It is not that we are not opposed to nuclear weapons. From the time of the Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and down to Rajiv Gandhi's Plan for Universal Nuclear Disarmament, our instinctive abhorrence for nuclear weapons has been clear. We did not sign the NPT in the late 1960s because it was a fundamentally unequal treaty. But we ensured that our practice and policies were fully consistent with the objectives of non-proliferation. Being a dissenter at that time did imply pressures, costs and burdens. But, in our view, to become party to an unequal arrangement would have been worse. In the end, we stand vindicated. We were never on the wrong side of international law or non-proliferation efforts.

Today we live in an inequitable, yet more interdependent, world order. The Cold War has ended, processes of globalization have accelerated and trans-national challenges are growing. Our needs from the world have changed, as has our capability to achieve these needs. This gets reflected in how India perceives its own future, its ties with its neighborhood and its approach to the larger international order. Yet no matter how complex the issue or no matter how intense the pressures we face, the abiding faith in our approach remains self evident. Our positions on issues of UN reforms, environment, climate change and WTO are reflective of this.

I would now take a look at the broader and deeper aspects of our bilateral relations with Iran. Our histories, both ancient and modern, indicate certain common interests and perceptions. Regional stability is a foremost consideration for both of us. After all, we did share a common border till 1947 and today share borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan, and developments in both these countries affect us vitally. Central Asia and the Persian Gulf States are in our proximate neighborhood. We share the same seaboard and the waters of the Indian Ocean present to us both challenges and opportunities. These waters can bring other powers to our very beaches at the same time that they link us to the wider worlds of trade, technology and commerce. The proximity in our respective assessments of the regional situation is therefore natural. Recent history has deprived us of geographical contiguity but we are still and will always remain close neighbors because of our civilisational and historical links and the contemporary substance of our relationship.

Secondly, fundamental complementarities bind us together. Iran is a major energy exporter; we are amongst the fastest growing energy market in the world.

These two fundamentals are the forces that shape our strategies and assessments and will continue to guide us in broadly similar directions. Of course, and this is natural, we will have diverse approaches on many issues. But notwithstanding such divergences, the impulse towards similar positions on a whole range of economic, political and strategic issues will remain strong.

I will outline briefly as to how we view the issues of common interest between India and Iran, as also the convergence in our assessments.

First, the rise of Asia. Perhaps more than any other part of the world, Asia is undergoing sweeping changes that impact on its political, economic and social structures. It is inevitable that this would result in new political ties, trade and economic links and increased opportunities for people-to-people contacts. Asia's share in the global GDP at present is about 25%. However, it is estimated that it will rise to more than 50% by 2025. By 2010, 60% of the world's young population between the age group 20 to 35 is likely to be Asian.

The era of globalization has increased our external interaction and, therefore, it is only natural that foreign relations have assumed greater importance. Consequently, Asia's relations with external factors such as EU, Russia and the US, will play a significant role. Interactions among Asian countries will contribute towards consolidating markets, increasing intra-Asian trade and exchange of technology, investment and managerial skills while forging these linkages that will help improve our living standards and contribute to health & education and poverty alleviation.

The threats of terrorism, energy security, food security, climate change, environment and natural disasters, throw new challenges before the Asian nations. India, as the largest democracy of the world, is mindful of its responsibilities in meeting these challenges.

We are extremely concerned about climate change as all indications point to the fact that developing countries would bear a disproportionately severe impact of its adverse effects, even though responsibility lies with those countries which have shown relentless consumption since industrialization. We have made it clear that in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, we expect the developed countries to commit themselves to significant, binding emissions reductions.

Second, India's ties with the Persian Gulf region. Our ties with this region go back many centuries. Today, we have a natural affinity for each other. The Persian Gulf is a major source of energy and we are one of the biggest consumers of the world. About 5 million Indians are also involved in economic activities in the Persian Gulf.

Third, the issue of Palestine, which is of abiding concern. The rights of the Palestinian people remain to be achieved. This situation requires to be resolved at the earliest. Not only does it cause deep harm to the people there, it also has a negative resonance across the region. India remains convinced that a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian question is achievable. We continue to extend our full support to the Palestinian people in realizing their aspirations for a sovereign, independent, viable and united state living side-by-side, and at peace with the state of Israel.

Fourth, Iraq. India has long-standing, civilisational ties with Iraq. We wish to see the Iraqi people freely determine their political future and exercise control over their natural resources.

Fifth, our common neighbour Pakistan. In recent years, India has pursued a policy of positive and substantial engagement with Pakistan. We wish to address issues that have affected our ties over the last several years. We also wish to make progress in areas such as enhancement of physical connectivity and upgradation of economic ties. Through the mechanism of the composite dialogue, we have addressed a number of serious issues of bilateral interest. Peace, stability and development in Pakistan and our immediate neighbourhood are in the interest of India, Iran and our region, enabling us to concentrate on economic development.

Sixth, the issue of Afghanistan. India has had a historically friendly relationship and we are actively engaged in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Our assistance commitment to Afghanistan since 2002 includes development initiatives in key infrastructure sectors. We are engaged in reconstruction activities such as power projects, power transmission lines, roads, education etc. We have made a commitment of US$ 1.2 billion towards reconstruction. Iran and India have a common interest in peace and stability there.

Terrorism now constitutes one of the most serious threats to global peace. Terrorists attacked the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing five Embassy personnel, including two diplomats as well as over 50 Afghan civilians, including young girls on their way to school. The terrorists may claim to act on behalf of religion, but in truth they have no religion, because the essence of religions is peace and universal brotherhood, and not violence and the violation of human rights.

Seventh, the Indian Ocean rim, which today has greater economic and strategic value to the world economy than ever before. India has a natural and abiding stake in the safety and security of the sea-lanes of communication from the Malacca Straits to the Persian Gulf. We have endeavored to promote greater cooperation between Indian Ocean rim states. Existing or emerging threats of piracy, drug trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, closure of choke points, environmental hazards, regional conflicts and other developments are of equally vital concern to us. We have sought to encourage economic cooperation in the area through Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC).

For instance, today international shipping in one of the world’s major waterways is threatened by piracy off the Somali coast. India is ready to play its part in combatting this menace with the international community under the leadership of the UN.

Finally, I will touch upon the "new” India of today and our place in the international matrix, as well as our main priorities and perceptions of our bilateral relations with Iran. India has steadily pursued the goal of economic development since Independence, through self reliance and cooperation. Today we are a trillion dollar economy, which has grown at an average rate of nearly 9% per annum for the past five years. India has conclusively demonstrated that substantive social and economic progress is possible through true democratic governance. In our success, we have proved wrong the skeptics who had argued that democracy could not be sustained in India, given its continental size, its multi-ethnic and multi-religious character, as well as its large socio-economic disparities. We are working on a realization that an economy that is growing at 8 to 9 percent would require investments, resources, energy and technology at an hitherto unprecedented scale. India is strengthening her relationships with all the major powers – USA, Russia, EU, China and Japan as well as with emerging economies in Asia, Latin America and Africa. The Indo-US civil nuclear agreement and the India-specific safeguards agreements with IAEA were made possible due to the international community’s confidence in India’s impeccable non-proliferation credentials, and its economic growth potential. Given that more than 50% of our energy requirements are met by coal and fossil fuels, and the sharp rise in the fuel prices, seen in conjunction with our huge energy requirements for the next 20-25 years, we have come to the conclusion that there is no alternative but to develop nuclear energy. The basic imperative of the India-US civil nuclear agreement is the same as that which binds us to the IPI gas pipeline – our energy needs are too large to be met from any one single source.

It is in this changing context that we need to look at India-Iran relations afresh. We have close civilisational ties, and share common interests and perceptions on many regional issues. In the vital area of trade-economic relations, important projects in sectors such as oil and gas, steel, fertilizer, infrastructure and railways are being discussed and implemented. The Government of India is encouraging its public and private companies to invest in Iran. We hope that such projects for mutual benefit would continue to enjoy the support of the Government of Iran. ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL) has discovered significant quantities of gas and oil during exploratory work done during 2004-07 at an estimated cost of US$ 90 million. OVL is also in talks with Iranian companies for development of the Azadegan Gas Field and Phase 12 of the South Pars gas field. We would like Iranian investment in India, especially in the oil and gas sectors. Iran is a very important producer of hydrocarbons and we are a major consumer. There could be mutually beneficial long-term arrangements, including our agreement on supply of LNG or the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. In the past, both countries had successfully collaborated in setting up of the Madras Refinery Project, the Kudremukh Iron Ore Project and the Madras Fertilizer Project besides the Irano-Hind Shipping Company. We lay particular emphasis on signing of Bilateral Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement and the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement to promote and protect bilateral investments. We would like to see progress on projects pertaining to the Chabahar port.

We have also stressed the importance of further strengthening cultural and people-to-people links, which would continue to be the bedrock of our relations. But most of all, India and Iran are close neighbours. We share a complex challenge in our region but are also best placed to appreciate the potential this region has. Throughout history, our countries have seen an inter-mingling of our people and cultures. Our civilizations reached unparalleled heights of sophistication and achievement when the rest of the world was in darkness. We have also faced external invasions and hegemonies and successfully overcome them. From this shared history we have derived our own principles and norms of engagement with the outside world. We can use this shared history to our mutual benefit and in the interests of our people.

Your Excellency, Mr. Foreign Minister, I am glad to join you in this forum in Tehran. I am confident that the participants in today’s Round Table will have serious deliberations on all aspects of our bilateral relations and will come up with a good report on how to strengthen our relations even further. I extend to you the warmest good wishes of the people and Government of India and through you to your leadership and your Government. I am sure our friendship, cooperation and good faith will stand our countries, our region and the entire world in good stead.

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