India mission to Iran 'successful'

Major interest from Iranians in buying Indian goods

A major Indian trade delegation to Iran to explore export opportunities created by US-led sanctions against the Islamic republic was a big success, a leader of the mission has said.

The 80-member delegation spent five days in the nation last week in a bid to boost Indian exports as a way of paying the country's huge oil bill to Iran.

"The visit was very good and very successful," said Rafeeque Ahmed, president of the government-backed Federation of Indian Export Organisations, which spearheaded the mission.

"We saw a lot of interest from the Iranians in buying Indian goods," Ahmed told AFP late on Saturday. "We talked about the excellent opportunities in food grains, food processing, pharmaceuticals, auto parts and other areas."

Fuel-scarce India buys around $11 billion worth of oil from Iran a year -- its second-largest crude supplier after Saudi Arabia -- but sells Tehran just $2.7 billion in goods.

The trade mission, headed by Indian Joint Commerce Secretary Arvind Mehta, came as the intensifying sanctions campaign dries up dollar and euro payment routes that India has been using to pay for Iranian oil imports.

India and Iran have worked out a deal under which New Delhi will seek to pay for close to half of its Iranian oil imports in rupees.

The rupee payments will be used by Iran to purchase Indian goods and the countries plan to reach a bilateral trade target of $25 billion within the next four years.

On Friday, India announced tax changes to facilitate greater trade with Iran, citing "national interest".

US lawmakers and pro-Israel groups have accused New Delhi of undermining efforts to isolate Tehran and force it to abandon its nuclear programme.

The United States and its allies say the programme is aimed at making an atomic bomb but Iran says it is for civilian energy.

A bomb attack that severely injured an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi last month has further complicated matters.

Israel accuses Iran of masterminding the attack, which Tehran has denied. Indian police have issued arrest warrants for Iranian nationals but New Delhi has assigned no blame for the bombing.

India says it will abide only by UN sanctions and will not implement others imposed unilaterally by the United States and European Union.

Indian officials insist recent events should not overshadow its "rich civilisational" ties with Iran, seen by New Delhi as an important counterweight to arch-rival Pakistan in the troubled region.

India, which has one of the world's largest Muslim populations, is also uneasy about joining a US-led drive against the Islamic republic that could have domestic political repercussions, analysts say.

New Delhi has said Western accusations that it is playing sanctions spoiler "overlook the imperative" of its dependence on Iranian oil imports.


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