(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Amid mounting tension between Washington and Tehran, Indian and Iranian officials plan to meet Tuesday for their second round of talks in less than three months, signaling the eagerness of the two countries to patch up differences that recently have clouded their historically close ties.
Despite American misgivings over the relationship, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to land in Tehran for discussions on Iran's nuclear program and on boosting cooperation over energy issues, reports Trend.
As India's economy booms, the Indian government is increasingly preoccupied with securing reliable sources of energy, including access to Iran's abundant gas reserves.
But its relations with Tehran have put New Delhi in a delicate position. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked much of its foreign policy on a growing partnership with Washington, antagonizing both Iran and the Indian left, which is distrustful of the United States but whose support Singh needs to stay in power.
India is engaged in a difficult balancing act as it tries to reassure an old friend while cozying up to a new, more powerful one. In play could be a historic agreement between Washington and New Delhi allowing India access to American nuclear fuel and technology and ending decades of international isolation for New Delhi as it pursued its own nuclear path.
The pact, which has been ratified by U.S. lawmakers, awaits Indian approval.
One provision of the deal requires the U.S. president to report to Congress each year on whether New Delhi is participating in global efforts to restrain Tehran's nuclear ambitions, which critics here see as an affront to India's sovereignty and its long-standing
relationship with Iran. The White House has warned New Delhi against going forward on a controversial $7 billion pipeline that would move gas from Iran to India through Pakistan.
With its economy expanding by about 8 percent a year, India is casting about for energy sources to fuel that growth. Officials cannot afford to ignore Iran's oil and gas fields, especially because China,
Asia's other expanding behemoth, is a major competitor for such
Tata Steel, one of India's corporate giants, announced last week that it had signed a deal to build a $1.4 billion plant in Iran on the Strait of Hormuz. India also wants to take advantage of a highway being built between Iran and Afghanistan to send its exports to the latter; overland access to Afghanistan from the east is blocked by India's longtime nemesis Pakistan.
Besides economic concerns, deep cultural and political affinities bind India and Iran.
``The relationship goes back 5,000 years,'' said Gulshan Dietl, an expert on Indo-Iranian relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University here.
She said that 10 percent of India's sizable Muslim population is made up of Shiites, as is most of Iran, and that linguistic similarities link the two peoples. More recently, in the latter half of the 20th century, New Delhi and Tehran joined hands as nonaligned Third World countries in favor of greater regional autonomy.
Throughout the Cold War, both regarded the United States with suspicion or hostility. So it is with some irony that the United States is increasingly becoming a wedge between them.
As a result of India's economic liberalization, Indo-U.S. trade has shot up. Both New Delhi and Washington cast a wary eye on Beijing's burgeoning political and economic clout, making them natural allies.
At the time President Bush proposed the civilian nuclear cooperation accord during a visit to New Delhi in July 2005, the measure was celebrated as rapprochement between the world's most powerful democracy and its most populous one.
Almost immediately, the Indian government found itself under pressure from Washington to vote against Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations. New Delhi acceded, declaring that a nuclear-armed Tehran was not in India's interest, which represented ``absolutely the nadir'' in Indo-Iranian ties, Dietl said.
``Iran felt it had lost a valuable friend and potential interlocutor, while the United States -- which saw how easily India buckled -- began to take New Delhi's support for granted,'' commentator Siddharth Varadarajan wrote in Monday's edition of The Hindu newspaper.
Last November, after months of coolness, Tehran signaled its willingness to restore ties with a stop in New Delhi by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Tuesday's reciprocal visit could help India regain influence withits longtime friend, Varadarajan wrote, which could allow New Delhi to play a mediating role in bringing the United States and Iran back from the brink of confrontation.