Tehran: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday assured External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that his country can be a "reliable partner" for India's energy needs, as the two nations decided to significantly expand engagements in their overall ties, particularly in oil and gas sectors.
Swaraj, who arrived in Tehran on Saturday, called on Rouhani and held talks with her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif, besides meeting with Supreme Leader Sayyed Ali Khamenei's Advisor Ali Akbar Velayati and deliberated on a range of issues.
"Iran can be a reliable partner for India's energy needs," Rouhani told Swaraj.
India has been eying deeper energy ties with Iran following lifting of nuclear sanctions and has already lined up USD 20 billion as investment in oil and gas as well as in petrochemical and fertiliser sectors there.
India is also keen to increase oil imports from Iran from current 350,000 barrels a day.
Rouhani spoke of Chahbahar port as a "defining partnership which has the potential of connecting the entire region", Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup told PTI.
Enhancing energy cooperation and development of the Chabahar port were the centerpiece of talks which was mostly dominated by economic issues.
Rouhani, whose country shares border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, also hoped for closer consultations with India on regional issues especially Afghanistan and the challenge of terrorism.
On her part, Swaraj briefed him on her discussions with Zarif and said that India has always considered Iran as part of its extended neighbourhood, the spokesperson said.
She apprised him about India's keenness in enhancing investment in various sectors including oil and gas in Iran.
"Given our natural complementarities we should move beyond a buyer seller relationship to a win win partnership," Swaraj told the Iranian president.
Rouhani recalled his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ufa, Russia, and asked the minister to convey his regards to him, the spokesperson said.
The president also called for intensified engagement with India in academic, scientific and technological fields.
"India and Iran have had very rich cultural ties through history and this could pave the way for enhanced partnership in tourism and people-to-people ties," he told Swaraj.
Earlier, during her talks with Zarif, the two sides agreed that pending agreements such as Preferential Trade Agreement, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Treaty should be concluded on a priority basis to spur trade and investment.
"The talks were very successful and would give new energy to our centuries old ties with Iran. In particular, the economic partnership will get considerable fillip as a result of today's forward looking talks," Swarup said.
Sources said the issue of Kulbhushan Jadhav was not at all raised by the Iranian side.
Jadhav was reportedly arrested in Balochistan after he entered from Iran and was accused by Pakistan of planning "subversive activities" in the country.
Both sides discussed the progress on the Chabahar project and agreed that the commercial contract on Chabahar as well as the modalities for extending USD 150 million credit for Chabahar Port should be signed in the "very near future".
Decisions on this line of credit, as well as USD 400 million credit line for supply of steel rails from India have already been taken by India.
Swarup said both sides discussed the energy partnership and Iran invited greater Indian participation in its oil and gas sector. "Iran said it would be happy to participate in the refinery sector in India."
On Farzad – B oil field project, both sides took note of the constructive discussions held during the recent visit to Iran of Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.
"The Indian side welcomed the Iranian decision to keep the Farzad – B field outside the auction basket. The concerned companies have been directed to complete their contractual negotiations in a time bound manner. Iranian side had earlier communicated their gas pricing formula and expressed their desire for Indian investment in the Chabahar SEZ," he said.
"In terms of connectivity, Iran said it supported India’s desire to join the Ashgabat Agreement. The two ministers reviewed the progress made in the International North South Transport Corridor. IRCON from India would be visiting Iran for discussions on the Chabahar–Zahedan Railway link," said the spokesperson.
On Trade and Investment, the two sides agreed that with the lifting of sanctions, the potential for expanding these ties was immense.
"They agreed that pending agreements such as Preferential Trade Agreement, Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement and Bilateral Investment Treaty should be concluded on a priority basis," said Swarup.
India is keen to enhance its investment in Iran as there has been impressive prospect of the country’s economic growth.
The size of Iran’s economy is around USD 400 billion, the second largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia, and the country is being seen as one of the world's hottest investment destinations as it has opened various critical sectors including oil and gas for joint ventures and foreign capital.
Countries like Japan, China, the US and a number of European nations are scrambling to take advantage of opportunities in the oil-rich nation after the sanctions were lifted in January.
Both sides decided to enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism and maritime security as they agreed that concerted global effort was required to combat the menace.
They reviewed bilateral relations, in particular the progress in implementing the decisions taken at the last Joint Commission Meeting held in New Delhi in December 2015.
"Both sides took note of the good cooperation between the National Security Council structures of the two countries and agreed to intensify this engagement," said Swarup.
In terms of cultural cooperation, both sides agreed to promote and strengthen the existing cultural exchanges, inter-alia, by observing "Weeks of Iran and India" in each other's country, publication of manuscripts, organizing conferences and events related to language, literature and religion.
They also agreed on the establishment of a Hindi Chair in Tehran University sponsored by ICCR and to renew the Cultural Exchange Programme.
Both leaders expressed satisfaction at the recent exchange of visits and called for more high level exchanges to give fresh impetus to India-Iran relations.
The two ministers also reviewed global and regional issues, in particular the situation in Afghanistan.
Earlier in the day, the External Affairs Minister visited an Indian Gurudwara and the Kendriya Vidyalaya.
She met the members of the small but vibrant Indian community in Tehran and assured them that she would take up issues of concern to them with the Iranian leadership.
Her visit is seen as a balancing act by India as it came nearly two weeks after Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Saudi Arabia, another West Asian power which considers Iran its rival.
Iran is an important country for India for its energy security as well as to get access to oil and gas-rich Central Asian nations. India imports close to 12 million tonnes of crude from Iran and it is looking at increasing the oil import from the country.
From Iran, Swaraj left for a two-day trip to Moscow to attend the annual Foreign Ministers' meeting of RIC (Russia, India and China).