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India offers mediation between Tehran, Washington

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India s good relations with Iran and the United States make it able to “provide the linkages” for any dialogue between Tehran and Washington, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said Wednesday.

“We remain good friends with the US and we are extremely good friends with Iran,” he told a conference on the Gulf nation.

“It places us in a very significant position to be able to bridge the gaps and to provide the linkages necessary for a meaningful dialogue (between the United States and Iran),” Khurshid said, according to the Press Trust of India.

Energy-hungry India has been walking a diplomatic tightrope in the past few years as it continues to pursue good ties and to import oil from Iran while deepening relations with the United States.

Khurshid s statements came a day after US President Barack Obama told Iranian leaders in his State of the Union address it was time they ended a standoff over their disputed nuclear programme.

The United States and other Western powers suspect Iran is masking the development of a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of a programme which Tehran insists is purely for peaceful purposes.

Khurshid noted India had not accepted the “unilateral sanctions” slapped by Washington on Iran to curb its uranium enrichment programme and had gone ahead with its “regular engagement.”

India, which is heavily dependent on oil from Iran and other countries to power its economy, has cut back on fuel imports from the Gulf nation.

But it has long been wary of being seen as bowing too easily to US demands and views Iran as an important counterweight to rival Pakistan in the region.

India is in a position to give Iran the kind of “comfort, advice and handholding” required in the “very, very critical and crucial discussions and dialogue that Iran needs to do”, Khurshid said.

On Tuesday Obama said “the leaders of Iran must recognise that now is the time for a diplomatic solution” to the nuclear row.

Analysts have said Obama s re-election last November may give him a freer hand to pursue direct talks with Iran.

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