New Delhi: Officials from India, Iran and Afghanistan on Tuesday discussed the development of the strategically crucial Iranian port of Chabahar, which New Delhi sees as critical for reaching landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia.
The discussions come against the backdrop of proposed US sanctions on investments in Iran following Washington’s pull-out from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Tuesday’s meeting was attended by Afghanistan’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Indian foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale and Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi, the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The meeting focused on consolidating economic cooperation, including Chabahar, as well as enhancing cooperation on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and continuing support to the peace and reconciliation process that is led and owned by Afghanistan," it said. “The three sides agreed to hold the next round of consultations at an appropriate time in India in 2019," it added.
The talks come within a week of India and the US, in their first ever “2+2" meeting —of foreign and defence ministers—discussing among other issues a waiver from sanctions for India on Chabahar. According to India, the port is key to access Afghanistan given that hostile relations with Pakistan prevent New Delhi from accessing the land route to trade or send relief supplies to Kabul.
With US President Donald Trump seeking India’s help to economically stabilize Afghanistan, New Delhi would emphasize the importance of the port on this count, Indian officials had said ahead of the “2+2" talks in New Delhi on Thursday. The officials had also said that they expected Afghanistan also to press the case of a waiver of sanctions on India for its efforts to develop the Chabahar port.
Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary for the bureau of South and Central Asian affairs had said in Washington on Monday that the US would continue discussions on the Iran sanctions with India.
An “informational conversation" was held during the “2+2" dialogue in New Delhi last week on Chabahar and the US has taken it under “advisement". Talks on the matter between the two sides were “ongoing" and no decision had been taken on the matter, Wells said.
The sanctions that take effect on 4 November were designed to bring Tehran to book and not penalize India, she clarified.
In 2003, India first proposed developing the port. Chabahar is situated less than 100 nautical miles from the Chinese built port of Gwadar in Pakistan.
In February, India and Iran signed a pact to lease to New Delhi the contract for operation of the Shahid Beheshti port or phase 1 of Chabahar. Under the terms of the pact, India Ports Global Ltd (IPGL), an Indian company, is to take over the interim operations of the port at Chabahar and operate the terminal for 18 months.
According to Indian officials, New Delhi was looking at Iran handing over the Shahid Beheshti port for operation by India in the coming weeks.
India is also looking at supporting the development of Chabahar- Zahedan Rail line that will aid the transport of goods right up to the Afghan border.
New Delhi plans to use the port as a gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that will link New Delhi to landlocked Central Asia and Russia as well.