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India to sign deal with Iran on Chabahar port project soon

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
India will soon formalize a deal with Iran over investment in the country's southern Chabahar port.

India is moving closer to finalizing a crucial plan to invest in Iran’s southern Chabahar port – a project that would open a new economic corridor rival to what China plans to do in Pakistan’s Gwadar port. 

India’s Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari is expected in Tehran within the next few days to formalize a deal for the project, the New Delhi-based Business Standard newspaper reported.   

India is also likely to engage in discussions with the US to secure a waiver of sanctions on activities at Chabahar, the report added.

“Talks about the proposed speed and manner in which the US government plans to free up the sanctions might also be on the cards, so that India does not run the risk of attracting punitive sanctions,” it said.

Iran and P5+1 are presently engaged in technical talks over the drafting of a final comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear energy program. The agreement envisages the removal of certain economic sanctions in return for Iran’s restrictions on its nuclear energy activities. 

“Once the [final Iran] deal is signed, the Indian government will invest $85 million for the purchase of equipment needed to set up and run a container terminal and a multi-purpose berth at the Chabahar port,” the report by the Business Standard added.

“Further, an annual expenditure of $22.9 million will be incurred by the [Indian] government for operating the port”.   

Located on the confluence of the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Oman in southeastern Iran, Chabahar is India's first foreign port project. Once completed, the project would enable India to send its goods from Chabahar to Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond.

Originally floated in 2003 by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government, the project has been consistently delayed due to various reasons.

Despite issues of viability, India wants to take up the Chabahar port as a strategic project, aimed at satisfying the immediate security interests of establishing a sea-land route into Afghanistan. 

New Delhi has plans to build a road-railroad network from Chabahar to Milak in Iran in order to link it with the India-built 223-km Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan so that aid could be pushed to Kabul and beyond, the Business Standard report added.   

Chinese President Xi Jinping during his last week visit to Islamabad unveiled a major investment package the focus of which was the construction of a crucial economic corridor that will link Pakistan's southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea with China's western Xinjiang region.

Meanwhile, reports say the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host Afghan President Ashraf Ghani next week to discuss a series of issues of mutual interest.

Officials in New Delhi say a key topic of discussions between the two leaders will be a tripartite transit agreement involving India, Afghanistan and Iran over Chabahar port project. 




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