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Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark on a visit to Iran this month with an aim to bolster overall bilateral ties with the Persian Gulf nation in a range of areas including energy, trade and investment and connectivity.
Modi's proposed visit is being seen as an effort by India to step up engagement with strategically important West Asia, a region endowed with vast oil and gas reserves.
Modi had last month travelled to Saudi Arabia, considered Iran's arch rival. In August last year, he had visited United Arab Emirates, another key player in the region.
When asked about Modi's visit to Tehran, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup only said both sides are in the process of finalising the dates for the trip.
"We share a very close, historical and civilisational friendship with Iran, a relationship which is in existance for a long period of time. Prime Minister had been extended an invitation by President (Hassan) Rouhani when the two had met in Ufa (Russia).
"Prime Minister had accepted the invitation in principle. We are currently in the process of working with our Iranian counterparts to work out the suitable dates," he said.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited Tehran last month during which the two sides had agreed to step up engagement in oil and gas sector. During her visit, President Rouhani had said his country can be a "reliable partner" for India's energy needs.
Iran had opened several lucrative sectors after sanctions against it were lifted under a historic nuclear deal.
There has been a rush for investment in the resource-rich nation by global economic powers including Japan, China, the US and several European countries following lifting of the sanctions.
India too has been eying deeper energy ties with that country and has already lined up USD 20 billion investment in oil and gas, petrochemical and fertiliser projects there.
New Delhi is looking to increase engagement with the sanction-free Iran by raising oil imports and possible shipment of natural gas. It also wants rights to develop Farzad-B gas field in the Persian Gulf discovered by ONGC Videsh Limited.
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.
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