India Rejects U.S. `Guidance’ on Visit by Iran’s Ahmadinejad

India rejected U.S. “guidance” on what to tell Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he visits the South Asian nation this month.

India should tell Ahmadinejad to suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program, end its interference in Iraq and stop supporting terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said two days ago. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit New Delhi on April 29.

“India and Iran are ancient civilizations whose relations span centuries,” India’s External Affairs Ministry said in a statement yesterday. “Both nations are perfectly capable of managing all aspects of their relationship.”

The U.S. is leading efforts to tighten international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities, which the Bush administration says may be a cover for building weapons, a claim the Islamic Republic denies.

Iran and India don’t need “any guidance on the future conduct of bilateral relations as both countries believe that engagement and dialogue alone lead to peace,” the ministry said. “It is important that the genius of each nation living in a particular region is respected and allowed to flower to meet the expectations of enriching relations with neighbors.”

India is looking to Iran to provide natural-gas and help ease shortages straining utilities delivering power in Asia’s third-largest economy. Iran holds the world’s second-largest gas reserves.

India is resuming negotiations with neighboring Pakistan over a proposed $7.4 billion pipeline to transport gas from Iran. The project stalled when India couldn’t agree with Iran on the price for the gas or the fees it will pay Pakistan for transporting the fuel.

Nuclear Finance

The U.S. is concerned that Iran may use revenue from gas sales to finance its nuclear program. It has lobbied for a gas pipeline from the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to India.

India is considering both options, the Times of India newspaper reported, adding that the Iran-Pakistan-India link is viewed as the more realistic route.

The U.S. is pressing India to complete the final stages of a civilian nuclear agreement signed by President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006. The agreement has been stalled by opposition from communists in India’s coalition government, who say the terms will weaken the country’s ability to follow an independent foreign policy.

The nuclear accord will give India access to U.S. technology and equipment and allow American companies to sell nuclear fuel and technology.