India on Sunday highlighted the development of Chabahar port, saying Iran’s southernmost city is a viable and operational trade route to connect to Afghanistan and potentially to Central Asia.
“We are looking at developing the Chabahar-Zahedan railway link which would bring us close to the Zaranj-Delaram road link which India has already built in Afghanistan,” India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said.
Swaraj was speaking at the First India-Central Asia Dialogue in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) attended by the foreign ministers of five Central Asian countries – Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan – as well as Afghanistan. The dialogue in New Delhi was aimed at developing viable connectivity options between India and Afghanistan and Central Asia to further facilitate trade and economic activity in the region.
Swaraj informed the gathering that Iran was holding the Chabahar Day International Conference on February 26 at the port to introduce its capacities to the delegations.
She urged the participants at the meeting to make the Chabahar conference a grand success.
The Indian-backed Chabahar port complex on Iran’s coast along the Gulf of Oman is being developed as a transportation corridor for landlocked Afghanistan.
In May 2016, India signed a deal with Iran to develop two terminals with five berths at the Shahid Beheshti area in Chabahar.
Under the agreement, India would build a 600-meter cargo terminal and a 640-meter container terminal. However, only a portion of the two berths has been finished because of deteriorating relations between the United States and Iran after the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016 that culminated with the reimpositon of economic sanctions last year.
In December, India took over operations at part of the Shahid Beheshti port.
Last week, India’s transport minister said his country hopes to soon start full operations at a portion of the port of Chabahar as the two countries are close to resolving various disputes including financing.
Nitin Gadkari met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi last Tuesday. After the meeting, he said the two sides were close to resolving various issues, including banking payment mechanisms to overcome the US sanctions.
India has already received a shipment of corn from Brazil at Shahid Beheshti with the help of Iranian operators, Gadkari told reporters.
India, Iran’s top oil buyer after China, will pay for crude imports in rupees to UCO Bank. Tehran will use the funds for importing goods from India.
The Statesman and Reuters contributed to this report.