Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Iran on Sunday for a historic two-day tour, as he is ready to kill two birds with one stone in Tehran. Apart from striking the Chabahar port deal (scheduled to be signed on Monday), he will strengthen the maritime security co-operation with Iran. Upon his arrival in Tehran, the visiting premier said that the main purpose of his visit is to strengthen trade, investment and energy ties with the West Asian nation.

Modi, the first Indian PM having visited Iran in the last 15 years, received a warm welcome, as Iranian Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Ali Tayyebnia greeted him the Mehrabad International Airport. Before leaving for a local Gurudwara to meet people of Indian origin, Modi met the press.

He told the Iranian media: “Enhancing connectivity, trade, investments, energy partnership, culture and people to people contacts would be our priority. My meetings with President Hassan Rouhani and Hon’ble Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will provide an opportunity to advance our strategic partnership.” Modi further said that he was fully prepared to sign the deal on development of Phase-1 of the Chabahar port as New Delhi wanted to double oil imports from the Persian Gulf nation.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Modi inaugurated an International Conference on ‘Retrospect and Prospect’ of India-Iran relations. Delivering the inaugural speech, he said that the two friendly nations 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 co-operation in the fields of trade, technology, investment and infrastructure and energy security,” he told the audience.

As far as the port project is concerned, the Indian premier stressed that his government was ready to conclude the Chahbahar agreement during his stay in Tehran. He explained that the accord on development of Chabahar port would enable India to bypass Pakistan and open up a route to land-locked Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries with which New Delhi has close security ties and economic interests.

Meanwhile, he informed the Iranian trade representatives that Indian public and private sector companies were interested in investing in Iran. “Lifting of the international sanctions against Iran has opened up immense opportunities for both the countries, especially in the economic sphere,” Modi stressed, adding that India also welcomes flow of capital and investments from Iran. On Monday, the visiting Indian leader is scheduled to hold formal talks with President Rouhani and Khamenei.

Modi has been concentrating on West Asia since becoming prime minister in May 2014 as a part of his plan to raise India’s global profile. The premier knows that although the region is rife with conflict, it is rich in cash and natural resources. Modi believes that he can make India an attractive destination for international investors by maintaining close ties with West Asian nations.

During his first visit to the region in 2015, the Indian premier met leaders of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Later in April 2016, he met King of Saudi Arabia Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud in Riyadh. He also held separate meetings with leaders of other West Asian nations on the sidelines of global conferences. In the coming days, the Indian premier will make a trip to Qatar in order boost India’s trade ties.

Analysing the importance of his recent trips to the region, Chief Economist (for Asia Pacific) at IHS Rajiv Biswas said: “The Middle East is of vital importance for India’s energy security, providing around 60% of India’s oil imports and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) imports.” Citing data published the Indian Ministry of Commerce, he also said that the West Asian countries accounted for 50% of India’s top 10 import sources of crude oil between April 2015 and January 2016. During this period, nearly 20% of the South Asian country’s total import of crude oil came from Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Iran was the sixth highest supplier during this period.

Biswas is of the opinion that Iran’s large reserves of natural gas makes it an important source for India’s LNG imports in the future. Now, Qatar, Nigeria and Australia are the largest LNG suppliers to India.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]