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"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity".
(surah Al-Imran,ayat-104)
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User Name: abdulruff
Full Name: Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal
User since: 15/Mar/2008
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Iran's President on South Asian Tour: Focus on Sri Lanka
 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a two-day state visit from April 28 to Sri Lanka on an invitation from President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This is the Iranian president's first visit to Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa visited Teheran last November. Ahmadinejad was accompanied by a high-powered delegation, including Foreign Minister Manouchehir Mottaki and Commerce Minister Mir Kazema and his key aides. Although the business trip of Iranian leader was mainly focused on his Sri Lankan visit, Mahmoud also, side by side, en-route, clubbed the trip to meet and discuss briefly the pipeline project with the leaders of Pakistan and India. As the initial step in his South Asian tour, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani during a four-hour stopover in Islamabad on 28 April.  They discussed the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project, though no related documents were signed. After his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, on his way to Teheran, Iranian President also paid his first visit to India on April 29.
 
On his arrival in Colombo, President Rajapaksa gave Mahmoud a royal welcome and the Sri Lankan Navy accorded him a smart guard of honor. Within 24 hours of his stay in this island nation, he addressed religious leaders of the Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Hindu and faiths at the banquet hall of the Galadari Hotel in Colombo which was filled to capacity with other invitees too and later in the morning laid the foundation stone and unveiled a plaque at the Sapugaskande Oil refinery. (He was not able to lay the foundation stone at Uma-Oya due to bad weather conditions that was not conducive for a helicopter flight)
 
 
The two Presidents briefed each other on issues of common interest and current developments in their respective countries. Sri Lanka's Presidents Rajapaksa and Ahmadinejad also entered into an agreement for the Sapugaskanda oil refinery enhancing project. Among the projects to be launched by the Iranian president during his two-day visit is the Uma Oya hydropower project at Wellawaya in Monaragala district. Iran had agreed to grant $450 million for it. The project has been estimated to produce 100 MW of electricity and supply water to agricultural and industrial sectors.

 

The Iranian president's visit comes at a time when US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have said they are working to extend sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. On the eve of Ahmadinejad's visit to South Asia the Department spokesperson Tom Casey declared that the United States believes that "it's up to every country to determine for itself how it's going to organize its bilateral relations (with Iran), and it's up to them to determine how best to manage them. We'd also certainly encourage them to ask Iran to end its rather unhelpful activities with respect to Iraq, with respect to support for terrorism, including organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, and to otherwise become a more responsible actor on the world stage."
 
South Asia tour
 
Iran and Sri Lanka's trade exchanges during the past two years have stood at around $400 mln; non-oil trade exchanges between the two nations is relatively limited at present, the trade volume, tea included, hits over $50 mln. Building cement and steel production plants, auto industries and transfer of technical and technological know-how in the oil exploration and extraction and mining sectors are the areas Iranian experts could help Sri Lanka with. Iran enjoys good technological potentials and we call for Iran?s cooperation in supplying Sri Lanka with machineries and equipments, helping us in the agricultural sector, building cement production plants, auto industries, iron exploration and extraction and building steel mill.
 
Iran is the sole supplier of crude oil for the only refinery in Sri Lanka in Sapugaskanda. The oil made available to Sri Lanka is given on easy payment basis and is a boon in a situation where we are compelled to spend exorbitant amounts fighting the Tamil Tigers. western diplomats privately raised eyebrows at Sri Lanka's all encompassing embrace of Iran.
 
While Sri Lanka's primary reason for bonding with Iran is oil, where countries such as China and Pakistan are concerned it is the military factor that motivates the relationship. With western countries as well as neighboring India refusing to sell arms to Sri Lanka to fight the Tamil Tiger rebels, President Rajapaksa has only countries such as China and Pakistan to turn to. Records indicate that in the past one and a half years Rajapaksa had visited China twice and also neighboring India and Pakistan as well as Iran.
 
 Iran supports the island's sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity and has expressed its support for Sri Lanka to solve its ethnic conflict through negotiations.  Claiming discrimination at the hands of the majority Sinhalese government, the LTTE has been fighting against the government since the mid-1980s to establish an independent homeland.
 
The Iranian president's visit comes at a time when US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have said they are working to extend sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. The US has expressed concern over the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinejad to South Asian countries; the US is said to have exerted pressure on India to warn Iran over her nuclear program but this understandably has not gone down well in India.
 
 
Compassionate Leader: Personal Diplomacy
 
The man who has challenged the most powerful nation of the world, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in South Asia in April visiting Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India and the people who met him and heard him had a different picture about that man. Ahmadinejad won the hearts of all Sri Lankans on this very short visit. What took people of Lanka by surprise is that they had never seen a head of state like him before in all their lives. His quiet charisma was irresistible. They surmised that he is very modest and humble, that simplicity is the hall mark of his character. Just like the Iranian people, Sri Lankans took a natural liking to him. They also observed that what distinguishes Ahmadinejad was his life style, his down to earth demeanor, impeccable revolutionary credentials and his record of selflessness in the service he has rendered to the people of Iran.
 
The speech he delivered was amazing. He said "Iran always desired Sri Lanka's progress and honor." "I am sure that people and religious leaders of this beautiful country will render a great service to humanity by working together in peace and brotherhood and I thank God for it," he said. "God created man to enable him to identify God and be humble before Him. By doing this God has elevated man to a high pedestal". "Therefore man should live happily in unity and mutual co-operation with others during his short life span," he said. Ahmadinejad also added that unity among all religious leaders would enable them to overcome any threat or force and invited them to tour Iran in the near future.
 
The Iranian president remarked that a very friendly atmosphere prevailed during his visit. The Iranian president, who emphasized the need to abhor hatred, enmity and jealousy, promote mutual love and respect and shelve injustice and aggressiveness, said that these are basic tenets of all religions. He said Sri Lankans are compassionate people and they commanded the honor, respect and friendship of the Iranian people. He added that the Iranian people desired close co-operation with the people of Sri Lanka and he wished Sri Lanka a bright future.
 
This speech had an electrifying effect on the audience. When the speech was over there was resounding applause. When the meeting concluded, the audience together with all the clergy rushed to the stage to congratulate President Ahmadinejad and wish him. It was indeed very difficult for Ahmadinejad to get back to his room in the hotel as hundreds of well wishers thronged around him to shake his hand and even embrace and kiss him.
 
 
Bilateral Agreements
 
A joint communiqué issued at the end of President Ahmadinejad's visit to Sri Lanka said: "The Iranian side expressed its support for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and welcomed the positive political steps taken to end the conflict through negotiations, leading to a durable settlement, acceptable to all the people of Sri Lanka. Iran and Sri Lanka have condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and emphasized the need for enhanced international cooperation to eliminate this global menace following bilateral talks between the two sides. They underscored the potential for expansion of bilateral economic co-operation, which would greatly strengthen the existing bonds of friendship and co-operation between the two countries and be conducive to the common progress and prosperity of the peoples of Iran and Sri Lanka, inter alia, by encouraging the private sectors of both countries to invest in each other.
 
Recalling the visit of President Rajapaksa, President of Sri Lanka to Iran in November 2007, and the Agreements and MOUs reached between the two countries in the areas of power supply and irrigation as well as the expansion of the oil refinery facility in Sri Lanka, both sides noted with satisfaction, the conclusion several MOUs and Agreements during the visit of the President of Iran to Sri Lanka.
 
Iranian President Dr. Ahmadinejad held wide-ranging discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, attended by Ministers and senior officials of both sides. The discussions which took place in a cordial atmosphere were detailed and substantive, covering issues of bilateral, regional and global interest. Both Presidents, while noting with satisfaction the progress achieved in bilateral relations, stressed their firm commitment to further enhance mutual cooperation in the political, economic, trade, cultural, educational, scientific and technological fields. The discussions reaffirmed the close and friendly ties that exist between Sri Lanka and Iran.
 
Sri Lanka supported the peaceful use of nuclear energy by Iran, within the framework of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The two sides confirmed the full and non-discriminatory implementation of Article IV of the NPT on peaceful nuclear co-operation. The two sides reiterated the importance of global nuclear disarmament, particularly the need for the nuclear powers to destroy their nuclear weapons, based on the decisions of the relevant international meetings.
 
 
Iran and Sri Lanka expressed their deep concern over the violence against the Palestinian people in the Palestinian territories and recognized the inalienable rights and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people at the highest level, and will continue to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people; stressed the need for the consolidation of national unity and understanding, peaceful co-existence and the preservation of the stability, security and peace in Lebanon; emphasized the need for the preservation of the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and the participation of all Iraqi groups in the political process and expressed their support for the efforts of the elected Iraqi government to restore security and stability in Iraq; expressed concern over the escalation of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan, and supported, as a matter of priority, the endeavor by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the restoration of peace and stability.
 
The Pipe-line

 

Ahmadinejad received a red carpet welcome on 27 April in Pakistan on his way to Colombo. Ahmadinejad discussed the Taleban insurgency in Afghanistan and a controversial oil pipeline project opposed by the US with Pakistan. High on the agenda was the gas pipeline project, which Pakistan and India are considering building to import natural gas from Iran. The USA accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons and has opposed the project as it feels it will weaken its efforts to isolate Teheran.

 
After his two-day visit to Sri Lanka, on his way to Teheran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid his first visit to India on April 29. Among the bilateral issues discussed are the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the technical negotiations for which have almost concluded, and India's desire to execute a contract for the import of LNG (liquefied natural gas) that was struck three years ago but never implemented as the price of oil rose dramatically soon after.
 
This was the second meeting between Singh and Ahmadinejad in nearly two years as the two leaders had last met in September 2006 in Havana on the sidelines of NAM Summit. Ahmadinejad, the first Iranian President to visit India after January 2003 when Mohammad Khatami was the Chief Guest for Republic Day.
 

An Observation

 

The net result of Iranian President's visit to Sri Lanka is he held talks with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Rathnasiri Wickramanayaka and witnessed the signing of six economic agreements. Among the projects launched by the Iranian president during his two-day visit is the Uma Oya hydropower project at Wellawaya in Monaragala district. Iran had agreed to grant $450 million for it. The project has been estimated to produce 100 MW of electricity and supply water to agricultural and industrial sectors. Among the agreements were the financial assistance for the Expansion of the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery and the Uma Oya Project, Iran's development assistance to Sri Lanka and the establishment of Political Consultation Mechanism. Iran Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Davood Danesh-Jafari has already visited Colombo this January 15 on a three day official visit to Sri Lanka to pave ways for economic cooperation between the two countries. Iran is emerging as a major economic donor in Sri Lanka which is under pressure on human rights issues as war has resumed with the Tamil Tigers.
 
Ahmadinejad said boosting ties between Tehran and Colombo would help peace and stability in the region. He says there is now hope for a better tomorrow in this strife torn island which for almost three decades has suffered immensely. President Ahmadinejad was surely a welcome breath of fresh air. China has also come forward with money for a new port and other projects.
 
 
Lanka is slowly turning towards Asian countries which offer more donor money than traditional Western allies as well as less criticism over human rights. Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona told the BBC: "Asians don't hector each other from public pulpits. They're more ready with assistance and less ready with gratuitous advice."
 
Political relations between the two is very good and from the economic point view too both Iran and Sri Lanka are doing well as during their 30 years traditional relations Sri Lanka is importing oil from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Teheran is also buying Sri Lankan tea With the visit of economic affairs and finance and the activities that took place, it is expected that economic cooperation and trade exchange between the two countries will expand. Colombo was festooned with flags, and bill boards proclaiming "Traditional Asian Solidarity". Ahmadinejad's visit would further cement its ties with Teheran.
 
Sri Lanka is heavily reliant on Iran for its supplies of crude. Sri Lanka's government has hailed Ahmadinejad's visit as cementing relations with Iran. During his short visit President Ahmadinejad toured development projects which Iran is helping to fund. "We are seeking justice and fair play in the world and Sri Lanka and Iran have agreed to co-operate in all spheres for the mutual benefit of each other," the Iranian president told reporters. Iran has already agreed soft loans and grants of $1.9bn for a hydroelectric and irrigation scheme and to upgrade Sri Lanka's main oil refinery, as well as to buy Iranian oil.
 
Colombo has come under pressure from some countries over its human rights record as war has resumed with Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for independence in the island's north and east. In March a US state department report accused government forces and allied militias of unlawful killing, torture, hostage-taking and extortion with impunity.
 
The sincere feelings expressed by President Ahmadinejad for the people of Sri Lanka indeed are like torrents of rain after an oppressive drought. When the US and the European allies have for a long time pressurized Sri Lanka with charges of human rights, abuse and covertly threatened to withdraw the GSP + facility, and even issued veiled threats of R2P, the goodwill of Ahmadinejad's offer of help to develop Sapugaskande and Uma-Oya with more to follow, was something that gladdened every Sri Lankan's heart.
 
In Sri Lanka there has been concern expressed as to how the US would view the visit, some have gone to the extent of reading the visit and our relationship with Iran as being an unfriendly "˜act' to both the US and Israel. Any country's foreign policy is crafted at promoting and achieving its own national interests and ours is no exception. The essence of a foreign policy is that it should be pragmatic and the government, despite a lack of sophistication at times, has no doubt exhibited a certain pragmatism which is dictated not by ideology but entirely by our own interests.
 
On Mahmoud's visit to Pakistan and India, Iran's Ambassador Masha'allah Shakeri told reporters here that China's interest in importing gas from Iran through Pakistan, saying increased international involvement would contribute to the project's viability. However, he said the IPI project was a trilateral and a separate project might be needed if China were to be included.
 

Visit of Iranian leader implies that even though much more remains to be done, Pakistan and India seem to have made a major breakthrough on the gas pipeline question. Given the history of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, tied as it is to the bilateral relationship between Islamabad and New Delhi, optimism without some reservations would be unwarranted. The differences between Pakistan and India, especially over the transit fee and transportation charges, have already delayed the pipeline project, raising the cost from $3.3bn in 2004 to $7.5bn today. But the two energy ministers told a press conference in Islamabad on Friday they had now agreed on the "fundamental issues" of the project. They were hopeful that a final agreement could be signed in weeks if not days. Iran has already pledged $1.9bn in soft loans and grants for development projects in Sri Lanka.

 
Notwithstanding the brief trip, the Indian government was keen to review the bilateral ties. Singh and Ahmadinejad reviewed progress on ambitious Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline which has failed to take-off because of differences over cost factors. The project was mainly stuck because of because of differences on the cost of gas and differences between India and Pakistan on the transit fee. Some progress was reported on the project last week during talks in Islamabad. The $22 billion LNG deal, which was signed during Khatami's visit, is also likely to come up, with the Indian side expected to press Iran to honor the agreement. The deal also could not be implemented so far.
 
Iran is expected to begin deliveries to India by 2011. The $6bn project is seen as crucial for India which relies heavily on fuel imports for its fast-growing economy. India, Pakistan and Iran say they plan to finalise the deal in June next year and to start building in 2007. The 2,600km (1,620-mile) pipeline would cross Pakistan to reach India and is expected to earn Pakistan millions of dollars in transit fees. The US, which accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms, objects to the project, which will benefit Iran financially. Iran says it remains committed to a gas pipeline project with India and Pakistan, despite US disapproval
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