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Iranian rials

Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani


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Known as Persia until 1935, Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 after the ruling shah was forced into exile. Conservative clerical forces subsequently crushed the westernising liberal element. During 1980-88, Iran fought a bloody, indecisive war with Iraq over disputed territory, which caused large-scale damage to its economy. The key current issue is how rapidly the country should open up to the modernising influences of the outside world, with a conservative faction in control of some key institutions, such as the Council of Guardians, and a reformist faction centred on elected President Khatami.

US and Iran 
Despite the apparent improvement in the relations between the US and Iran, which had followed the 11 September terrorist attacks, by January 2002 the tension between the two countries had reached new peaks. President Bush accused Iran of being part of an "axis of evil" together with Iraq and North Korea and asked Iran to stop meddling in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and developing weapons of mass destruction. The lobby favourable to the abolition of sanctions against Iran has the support of several US congressmen and senators and even within the State Department some officials strove to make the situation look less critical. However, actions and declarations by members of the Bush administration clearly point towards the maintaining of American hostility towards Iran. 
The Bush administration is increasing its pressure against Iran on the world arena, although most countries are not very keen to respond to such calls. The European Union in particular looks inclined to actually expand its ties to Iran. The only major countries whose relations with Iran have been affected have so far been Japan and Russia and even them rather marginally. There have been delays in the negotiation of deals in the oil, nuclear and defence industries, but in the end both Russia and Japan appear intent on continuing their flourishing trade with Iran. With the exception of US companies, the oil industry worldwide is very active trying to increase its presence in Iran as much as possible. This applies to relatively small companies too, despite the demanding character of the Iranian market.

Iranian responses 
On the Iranian side, the reformist government is keen on improving relations with the US, but there remains strong opposition from the conservatives, who dominate a number of key institutions, first and foremost the Council of Guardians, and count among their members the Supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Calls for the formation of a united national front against "American aggression" appeared to be delivering some results until April, with a lull in the repression of dissidents and the liberal press. Former President Rafsanjani, who has a reputation for pragmatism and in the recent past had showed signs of wanting to recycle himself as a moderate, after having taken an intransigently anti-American stance in the early months of 2002 sponsored secret negotiations with the US, aimed at easing the tension between the two countries. 
While the Iranian leadership has good reason to be worried about the intensification of American hostility, the Bush administration is clearly not planning any direct action, but it is rather trying to increase the pressure on Iran, in order to achieve either a fall of the Islamist regime due to an internal crisis or at least the adoption of a more moderate line in foreign policy. During 2002, the Bush administration has among other initiatives actively opposed the extension of the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline to Greece and the EU and invited Japan, a major trading partner of Iran, to exercise pressure on Teheran. The Iranian government has, on its part, showed some signs of greater moderation, for example by asking the Lebanese Hezbollah to exert restraint against Israel and by avoiding to the threat of an oil embargo as a way to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These moves, however, did not appease the US administration.

Russia and Iran 
Moreover, the re-emergence of Russia as a big player in the oil market could test the good relations that the two countries have been enjoying for some years and which are crucial to Iran's strategic position. Russia, for example, is expressing its unhappiness at Iran's plans to explore a sector of the Caspian sea that it claims as its own, while the negotiations on how to divide the resources of the sea among the bordering countries are still far from concluded. While in the medium- and long-term Russia's desire to become a major player in the oil market could hurt Iran's own plan to dramatically expand its market share, the main danger to Iran is that Russia could soon be lured towards a more pro-American stance in exchange for economic concessions.

Economic prospects 
Apart from the international tensions, the economic and political situation of Iran remains uncertain. The development of oil extraction in Iran has been negatively affected by project delays and by some flaws in the buy-back deals negotiated with the international investors and it is by no means certain that Iran will succeed in increasing its production to the levels planned. A failure would have very negative consequences for the economic stability of the country, due to the rapid growth of internal consumption of oil, which is expected by some analysts to match the volume of exports during the current year. Petrol is sold within Iran at heavily subsidised prices, with a litre costing to the Iranian motorist just $0.063, which encourages high consumption levels and waste. Moreover, while Iran is being relatively successful in attracting investment towards the development of oil extraction, it has not succeeded yet in doing the same for the construction of pipelines to East Asia, a market for which the country is potentially very well placed. 

Economics and demographics of a latent crisis 
If the debate about the chances of success of Iran's plan to expand its oil production is still undecided, there is no doubt that the Islamic Republic cannot afford a failure. Although the birth rate has now been brought down to manageable levels, the baby boom generation is beginning to join the workforce, causing a terrible headache to the government. It needs to create between 800,000 and 1,200,000 new jobs every year to prevent an increase in the unemployment rate and keep the population happy, but in 2000/2001 it succeeded in creating just 400,000. Economic growth reached 4.5% in that year, short of the 6% target but still not a bad achievement when judged by the standards of Iran's performance over the last decade. In 2001/2002, which according to the Iranian calendar ended on 21 March, low oil prices and a cut in production will ensure that growth will be lower, probably around 3.5%. It appears obvious that it will be difficult to achieve significantly higher growth rates without attracting massive foreign investment, but there is a strong opposition among conservatives against foreigners playing a much larger role in Iran's economy.

Foreign investments and internal politics
Investment in the oil industry is less controversial, because it tends to be easier to isolate from the mainstream of society and because the rewards are so obvious. But that will likely not be enough to inject enough dynamism in the Iranian economy. The opportunity to attract funds towards other sectors certainly exists. Foreign businesses express a strong interest in the Iranian internal market, which at present is underdeveloped, due to restrictions to imports, which are not allowed to exceed $15 billion, and to the inability of the domestic industries to meet demand. In the car industry, for example, it is estimated that annual sales of 300,000 cover only half of potential demand. 
The attempts to reform the Iranian economy and political system have been slowed by the opposition of the conservative faction. The Council of Guardians has been blocking the introduction of several laws, including the new foreign investment law, approved by the parliament. However, there are divisions within the ranks of the reformists too, as they include both groups favourable to the liberalisation of the economy and others, such as the Islamic left, who are cold towards it.

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Update 06 - (23/05/02)

Disappointed hopes of easing of tension with US

The signs of an easing of the tension between the US and Iran, which had been spotted between March and April, had been overshadowed by other developments by the beginning of May. The apparent collapse of secret talks between the US and Iran, sponsored by former president Rafsanjani, did much to bring about the change of climate. A strongly anti-American 1 May speech by Supreme Spiritual leader Khamenei confirmed that for the moment being Iran is not going to appease the Americans. By mid-May even the reformist President Khatami felt that he had to take a strong stance and warned the US administration against "threatening, insulting and humiliating" Iran. 
American words and actions also showed that compromise or appeasement is not in the cards. An authoritative voice such as US national security adviser Condoleeza Rice repeated at the end of April that Iran's Islamist regime is a target of American foreign policy. Actions, whether real or planned, were even more eloquent than words. The Iranians' fear that Americans might achieve some success in isolating Iran from its traditional trading partners were heightened in mid-May, when the chairman of the Pentagon's advising board, Richard Perle, proposed to forgive Russia's Soviet era debt in exchange for the termination of nuclear cooperation with Iran. This proposal, and the more general prospect that the Bush administration might want to offer economic incentives to Russia, in order to convince President Putin to cut ties with Iran, caused some nervous reactions in the Iranian press. The Russians have so far kept assuring that the nuclear reactor they are building in Iran is not suitable for weapon development and that anyway it will be strictly monitored after completion, but the Bush administration is not satisfied. 
Another worrying development for Iran was the 15 May announcement of sanctions against Armenian, Chinese and Moldovan firms, accused of transferring to Iran equipment and technology suitable for the development of weapons of mass destruction. While the impact of these sanctions in themselves will be limited, it is clearly a warning. The Bush administration is also bringing some pressure to bear on the Central Asian countries. The US ambassador to Dushanbe has recently hinted that the friendly relations between Iran and Tajikistan might be an obstacle to the concession of economic aid.

Teheran reacts by focusing on neighbours
Teheran must also have watched with some anxiety the decision of EU foreign ministers to postpone the starting of talks with Teheran on a trade and cooperation pact. The postponement was apparently due to divisions among EU member states on whether the pact should include the establishment of a political relationship with Iran as well as an economic one.
As a reaction to growing American pressure, Teheran strengthened its efforts to improve its relations with its Islamic neighbours. Khatami toured the Central Asian countries between the end of April and the beginning of May, urging closer ties. Iran is clearly worried about America's growing influence in Central Asia and is trying to contain it. More interestingly, Teheran is also trying to improve its relations with traditionally difficult neighbours, such as Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan. In mid-May Azerbaijani President Geidar Aliyev was welcomed to Teheran, where he signed a friendship and cooperation agreement, which is hoped to reduce the tension about ethnic issues, Iran's friendship with Armenia and the sharing of resources of the Caspian Sea. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the rapprochement is still in its early stages, but observers could not help noting a growing convergence of interests between the two countries, for example on the Palestinian issue.

Thaw between conservatives and reformists was just a lull
The failure of efforts to ease tension between the US and Iran coincided with renewed infighting among Iranian political factions. By early May it became clear that the conservatives, entrenched in the judiciary and in the supervisory institutional bodies, were not willing to tolerate dissent for the sake of national concord, contrary to what many reformists had hoped after the release of several political prisoners in Mach and April. Two state-owned reformist newspapers were closed by the judiciary, while a journalist and the director of a cultural centre were sentenced to prison terms for their political positions. 
Faced with a conservative opposition that showed little sign of wearing down, during May President Khatami adopted a more vivid rhetoric. He warned that society might be on the verge of unrest, denounced the suppression of the popular demand for reform and threatened to step down if the reform process got completely stuck, although he also asked his supporters to be patient. 
If a positive sign can be seen, it is the appearance of doubts within the conservative camp. While Supreme spiritual leader Khamenei appears to have supported the new wave of repressive measures, some conservatives might be leaning towards a more moderate stance. For example, the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, intervened to lift the ban on one of the two papers banned, despite having been a protagonist of previous clampdowns on the press. Another leading conservative, Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini, declared in an unusual public statement that the majority of the population was increasingly unhappy and that the regime should not disregard their views, otherwise its very existence might be threatened.

Unemployment becomes an "emergency"
While between the second half of March and the first half of April the popular mobilisation which had supported the reformists over the previous two months vanished, the leaders of the reformist faction, especially those more closely aligned with President Khatami, appeared well aware that popular discontent could resurface soon and take more dangerous shapes. A sign of the growing uneasiness of Khatami's circle with the economic and social situation of the country can be seen in the May announcement that the government is preparing an "emergency plan" to tackle the high and growing level of unemployment. According to Khatami himself, the plan will be based on the need to attract investment from abroad, as it is recognised that the state alone cannot create enough new jobs. Significantly, during the May visit of the Japanese foreign minister to Teheran, his Iranian counterpart Kharrazi asked for Japan's help in creating jobs. 

Oil industry faces crisis
A development that must certainly have contributed to trigger the renewed government efforts to deal with the economic and social crisis of the country is the negative turn taken during the early months of 2002 by the negotiations with potential investors in Iran's oil and gas industry. During 2001, the policy of attracting badly needed foreign investment in Iran's oil fields appeared to be going well, especially after the signature of a major deal with ENI, the Italian oil company, for the development of the Darkhovin field. In recent months, however, a wave of financial scandals has hit executives of some Iranian oil companies involved in partnerships with foreign investors. Because those executives are close to reformist oil minister Zanganeh, there are allegations that the conservative judiciary is trying to hit at the reformists. In any case, the impact on the oil industry has been very negative, as officials look now fearful of attracting the attention of the judiciary. This in turn has led to more delays in the negotiations with prospective foreign investors, convincing some of them to pull out and in any case postponing the opportunity for the Iranian state to earn badly needed cash. Moreover, an ongoing dispute with Total, one of the largest oil investors in Iran, appears nowhere close to being resolved, potentially discouraging other potential investors. 
Smaller foreign oil companies are said to be particularly wary of the current situation and of the costs involved. While the withdrawal of UK company Enterprise earlier this year had not prompted the general flight of small companies that some expected, a protracted stagnation might eventually force many of them to pull out. Spanish Cepsa did just that in April, while at least another company is said to have done the same. Negotiations with a Japanese consortium for the Azadegan field and with several other companies, including ENI and Total, over Bangestan are all well behind schedule. The recent problems compound a situation in which investors were already rather unhappy about the Iranian determination to maintain the control of production in the newly developed fields.

Running out of time?
While Iran will always be able to find some foreign partners willing to invest in its rich oil fields, time is running short. Unless Iran is able to reduce its internal consumption of oil, which is unlikely since it would cause large-scale unrest, it is estimated that to maintain its share of world oil exports it will need to invest $30 billion over the next 8-9 years. At present the ageing Iranian fields are losing production capacity at the rate of 250,000 barrels per day and at least $1 billion are needed every year to maintain production at the current levels. Moreover, attracting international investment might become more difficult in the future, especially if the US succeeded in establishing a friendly regime in Iraq and therefore open that market to foreign investment too.

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Iran, Russia to sign contract for building satellite 

Post, Telegraph and Telephone (PTT) Minister, Ahmad Motamedi, said recently that Iran is to sign a contract with a Russian company in Tehran for building and launching the Zohreh Satellite, IRNA News Agency has reported. 
The Public Relations Department at the PTT Ministry quoted Motamedi as saying that the satellite's equipment would be German and French. He said conclusion of the contract is a legal duty. 
"Over recent years, more serious activities had been launched and from among five European and Asian countries, a Russian company won the tender bid for construction and launching the satellite." 
Motamedi said the main parts of the satellite are produced in France and Germany at Iran's request. 
He added that the original contract would be confirmed by the Russian space agency and confirmed by the government. Once the satellite is launched, it will save the country hard currency, he said.

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TotalFinaElf brings Phases 2 and 3 of Iran's South Pars gas field on stream

TotalFinaElf SA has brought on stream Phases 2 and 3 of the South Pars natural gas development project in the Persian Gulf off Iran. Development costs for the field, which lies in 70m of water, reached a total of US$2bn, Iran Expert has reported.
Production from Phases 2 and 3 is expected to plateau at 2 bcfd of gas and 80,000 b/d of condensate from 20 wells, which are tied into two unmanned platforms, TotalFinaElf said. Gas and condensate from the field will be transported via two 32-in., 105 km pipelines to be treated onshore at the Assaluyeh gas processing facility.
The Assaluyeh plant covers a 150 hectare area and will comprise four gas processing trains, export compressors, condensate stabilization and storage units, and sulfur recovery units. The first train has been commissioned, TotalFinaElf said, and the other three will come on stream before the end of the third quarter.
Gas produced from the South Pars project will be used in Iran, while condensate will be sent to an offshore buoy for export. However, BP PLC, National Iranian Oil Co., and India's Reliance Industries Ltd last year agreed to begin a US$10m feasibility study of an LNG project in southern Iran based on South Pars gas. Reliance Industries, National Iranian Oil, and BP will study a proposed two-train, 8 million tonne/year plant. 
The study will examine using gas from Iran's South Pars field and moving it via pipeline to the proposed plant at the Pars Special Energy Economic Zone at Assaluyeh on the Persian Gulf. Exports would go to India and other markets in Asia and Europe.

Ukraine interested in construction of Armenia-Iran gas pipeline

Should Ukraine win the bid, it is ready to take an active part in the construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline, the Ukrainian ambassador to Armenia, Volodymyr Tyaglo, told an Arminfo News Agency's correspondent on 26th April .
Speaking about the refusal of the Ukrainian Intercontact company to privatise the Yerevan-based Nairit plant, Tyaglo said that he is currently studying the reasons for the Ukrainian company's refusal. "I am not yet fully informed and have not reached the crux of this matter," Tyaglo said.

Petrochemical exports exceeded 4m tonnes 

Over 4.01m tonnes of petrochemical products worth US$794m were exported during the last year (ending 20th March), showing a 3 per cent growth in terms of weight compared to the figure predicted by the National Petrochemical Industries Company, Managing Director of Iran's Petrochemical Commercial Company, Mohammad Ehtiati, was quoted by the Farsi daily 'Hamshahri' as saying.
"The company is expected to export 4.23m tonnes of its products during the current Iranian calendar year," he said. 
The official further noted that Japan by importing 927.6 tonnes of petrochemicals was the main consumer of Iran's petrochemicals last year, adding that China, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines stood second to fifth respectively.
Ehtiati referred to marketing and establishing new offices in the consumer countries as the main priorities of the company in get more share on global markets.
Iran's Petrochemical Commercial Company is considering joint investment projects as well as cooperation in marine transportation in order to increase its exports and play more active role on the world market. 
In this regard, the company has initiated wide-ranging cooperation with Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) and other producer companies in the Persian Gulf littoral states. 
Touching on the presence of delegations from domestic and foreign producer companies and investors in the annual seminar on petrochemicals, he said that such gatherings will help the country make known its policy of supporting domestic and foreign investments in its petrochemical industry.

Iran Pipe Route Preferred 

Leaders of both Kazakhstan and Iran agree that an Iranian overland route is the best economic solution for taking oil from the Kazakh sector of the Caspian region, Comtex reported at the beginning of May. 
Both national presidents, Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Mohammad Khatami of Iran, have described the Iranian option as "the most cost-effective" for exporting Kazakhstan's oil. 
In a news conference in Almaty, Nazarbayev said Kazakhstan is looking for multiple routes for exporting its oil via Iran to the Persian Gulf. He added that: "All have recognised the economic viability of this project." The Kazakh president said this option also has "good prospects." 
Khatami, in a visit to Almaty, agreed with Nazarbayev, saying an Iranian plan was "the most reliable and cost-effective route."The Iranian president added: "We wholeheartedly welcome transporting Kazakh oil and the construction of an oil pipeline to Iran." 
Khatami expressed hope that the sides would eventually see an oil pipeline being built across Turkmenistan to Iran to allow Kazakh oil exports to world markets, the Interfax- Kazakhstan News Agency reported.

Qatar agrees to supply Iran with MTBE for 7 yrs 

Qatar Fuel Additives Company Qatar has signed a contract with Iran to supply the non-Arab Gulf state with 275,000 tonnes of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) over seven years, Reuters has reported. 
The deal, signed by Oil Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah and Iranian deputy oil minister Mohammed Reza Nematzadeh, calls for the first shipment to be in July 2003. Nematzadeh said the deal would help Iran meet rising demand for unleaded gasoline. MTBE is used to produce unleaded gasoline. Qatar Fuel Additive Company (Qafac) produces 610,000 tonnes of MTBE a year, most of which is currently exported to the Far East and Europe. 
Qatar Petroleum owns 50 per cent of Qafac and Taiwan's Chinese Petroleum Company 20 per cent, while the rest is split equally between Taiwan's Lee Chang Yung Chemical Industry Corporation and Canada's International Octane Ltd of Canada.

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Iranian, Uzbek leaders urge closer ties

The Iranian and Uzbek leaders have urged closer ties between their countries, playing down fears that the U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan would strain relations, the Russia Journal reported on 26th April. 
"All countries define their policies on the basis of their national interests," President Mohammad Khatami told a news conference after talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov.
He said they had agreed not to interfere in each other's foreign and domestic affairs. Troops from the US.-led anti-terrorist coalition have been deployed since late last year in the ex-Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to support the military operation in nearby Afghanistan. Both Russia and Iran have bristled at the US. military build-up in their backyards that followed the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. 
Khatami's tour of Central Asia, which began this week with a visit to Turkmenistan, is seen as an attempt to reassert Iran's interests in the region. During his visit to Kazakhstan, Khatami called the foreign military presence in the region "humiliating" for its people. 
"The presence of armed forces of large, non-regional states in Central Asia prompts Iran's concern," Khatami said. Karimov defended his country's increased cooperation with the United States as being transparent and in the interests of both Uzbekistan and the United States. "Our relations with the United States are no secret to anyone... There are no issues that we would want to hide from anyone, including Iran," Karimov said. 
Khatami said he and Karimov also had discussed the future of Afghanistan and agreed to cooperate in rebuilding its economy, including building new transport routes via Afghanistan. 
He said both countries had suffered from the Taliban regime and al-Qaida activities in Afghanistan and wanted peace in that country, but warned against outside interference "Afghanistan should follow the path chosen by its own people," Khatami said. Karimov, whose government has struggled over the past few years with an Islamic opposition allegedly linked to al-Qaida, said he would continue to prosecute members of the banned radical Islamic party Hizb ut-Tahrir. 
He also said he would seek the extradition of Uzbek nationals arrested in Afghanistan during anti-terrorist operations. However, he said no such people had been identified so far among the prisoners held by the United States. Khatami was expected to visit the ancient towns of Bukhara and Samarkand before leaving Uzbekistan for Kyrgyzstan and the last leg of his tour of the region taking him to Tajikistan.

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Export-Import Bank to offer loans to Iran 

The Export-Import Bank of Korea said that it has signed the minutes of an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company to offer a total of US$2bn in structured finance to the latter, the 'Korea Herald' has reported. 
With the signing, more Korean firms will have an opportunity to tap oil and natural gas developments, the bank said. 
Structured finance refers to those loans offered to business projects and development on the condition that business gains or products be collateralised

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EU set to open trade talks with Iran 

European Union foreign ministers were expected on 13th May to approve the opening of talks with Iran on establishing a Trade and Co-operation agreement. The move is aimed at bolstering reform in Tehran and giving European companies an advantage over US competitors. 
The decision highlights deep differences between Europe and the US over relations with Iran, which President George W. Bush described this year as part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and Iraq. A number of European leaders criticised the speech, and European officials argue that a strategy of continued engagement with Iran is more likely to strengthen reformist elements led by President Mohammad Khatami. 
Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland and France have insisted that talks on a trade pact be linked to Iran meeting conditions contained in the EU's negotiating mandate. Italy and Greece wanted to play down the conditions clauses, saying they could inhibit the reformers. 
Areas to be addressed include the promotion of human rights and freedoms, specifically judicial reform. The mandate also includes the non-proliferation of weapons technology and the fight against terrorism. 
As for the Middle East, Iran must "exercise influence" to prevent any groups trying to jeopardise a return to the peace process. But the mandate does not name Hizbollah, the Lebanese militia created by Iran to fight the Israeli army's occupation of southern Lebanon. 
Once concluded, the agreement could radically boost trade. The EU is Iran's main trading partner with imports from Iran totalling €8bn (£5bn) and exports to Iran amounting to €5.2bn in 2000. More than 80 per cent of EU imports consist of oil products. These figures exclude recent lucrative deals between big European oil companies and the Iranian authorities, such as Shell, TotalFinaElf and Eni, which have ignored the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act under which the US seeks to bar foreign companies from making significant financial commitments in Iran. 
US oil groups, barred from investing in Iran since 1996, have argued that Washington's unilateral sanctions have given Europe an unfair advantage, clinching deals to develop the oil and gas reserves. 
Iran, Russia and India to hold meeting on North-South corridor 
Iran, Russia and India are to hold a trilateral meeting in Saint Petersburg this month to survey ways to expand activities on North-South corridor, deputy Head of the Euro-Asia Transportation Union said. 
IRNA News Agency reports that the Russian official predicted that 20 million tons of cargo would be transported via the corridor that links Russia, northern Europe, Iran and India. He said Russia's transport revenues from the corridor are estimated at US$400m annually. 
He added that the Iranian, Russia, and Indian parliaments have ratified joining to the international North-South corridor. 
On the agenda of the meeting, he said that the upcoming meet would specify the legal status of the corridor. 
He said as Iran, Russia and India have inked the accord, other countries, such as Kazakhstan, Lithuania, and certain Persian Gulf littoral states have announced willingness to join the North-South corridor. Iran and Russia are now busy with wide-scale activities to equip their ports in the Caspian Sea, he added.

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