1127 GMT June 18, 2019
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday he plans to pay official visits to India and Iraq in coming days for talks on trade ties.
Heading a large economic delegation, Zarif is slated to travel to India at the official invitation of South Asian country’s officials.
The top diplomat said representatives of Iran’s private sector would have an active presence in the trip.
Zarif’s two-day visit to India will start on January 7, according to ThePrint website.
Zarif, who will be in India for the annual Raisina Dialogue organized by think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF), will meet External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on January 8. He is also expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The visit will witness both sides following up the issues discussed during Zarif’s last trip to India in May 2018, when the two countries had vowed to not only boost bilateral trade ties, but also to identify ways in which the Modi government could support the Iran nuclear deal after the withdrawal by the United States from the deal and imposition of sanctions, sources told ThePrint.
Zarif and his accompanying delegation will also address a business forum under the aegis of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) on January 8.
The main objective will be to discuss how to continue doing business transactions in Indian currency and all the modalities around it in the wake of the sanctions, while providing a platform for Iranian businesses to explore investment opportunities in India.
After visiting India, Zarif is planned to go to Iraq and hold talks with senior officials of the Arab country on issues of mutual interest.
The visits would come against the backdrop of Iran’s efforts to boost its foreign trade in the US sanctions era.
Iraq’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that his country is "not obliged" to abide by sanctions imposed by the US against Iran and would be pursuing options to continue bilateral trade.
On December 20, the US granted Baghdad a 90-day extension to a waiver on abiding by the sanctions that were reimposed on the Islamic Republic in November.
Trade between the two neighboring countries is thought to amount to around $12 billion. The two neighbors are seeking to raise that figure to $20 billion in the near future.
Iran provides around 40 percent of Iraq's electricity needs.
Although Iraq faces possible censure by the US if it fails to cease its trading with Iran by the end of the waiver period, Mohammed Ali al-Hakim said his country could continue relations with Iran.
"These sanctions, the siege, or what is called the embargo, these are unilateral, not international. We are not obliged (to follow) them," he said, speaking to a gathering of journalists.
He said Baghdad is considering options to bypass those bans and maintain trade ties with its neighbor.
The Iraqi official said Baghdad is looking into possible options to keep bilateral trade routes open, including “dealing in Iraqi dinars in bilateral trade” and creating a fund for payments to Iran.
Iraq shares a 1,450-kilometer border with Iran. The Arab country relies heavily on Iranian natural gas to feed its power stations, importing almost 1.5 billion standard cubic feet per day.
Iraq also imports electricity and a wide range of goods from Iran.
The US has unleashed its “toughest ever” sanctions against Iran since its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
It has also warned of severe penalties for foreign companies that evade the US bans and engage in business dealings with Iran.