New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday told Iran that India is keen to help develop the strategic Iranian port of Chabahar, seen by India as offering an alternative route to landlocked Afghanistan and resource-rich central Asian countries.

“India keen on working with Iran on Chabahar port," Modi told Akbar Torkan, chief adviser to the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani at a meeting on the sidelines of the “Vibrant Gujarat" economic meet in Gandhinagar, according to a Twitter post by Indian foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin.

India and Iran had agreed to look at developing the port in southeastern Iran in 2003 during a visit to India by then Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, but the venture has not made much progress.

The Chabahar port on the Gulf of Oman is 72km from Pakistan’s Chinese-constructed port of Gwadar, built as part of a plan to open up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf to western China. It has the capacity to handle 2.5 million tonnes a year, which Iran would like to increase to 12.5 million tonnes.

Iran has made the area adjacent to Chabahar town a free-trade zone hoping to spur growth in its poor southeast. Given its often hostile ties with Pakistan, India views the port as an alternative route not only to Afghanistan, but also to the resource-rich, landlocked countries of central Asia.

The proposal to develop Chabahar was revived about two years ago, with India committing $100 million for its development last year. A visit to India last year by Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif was also key to providing momentum to the discussions on the subject.

Though ports and infrastructure were not targeted under sanctions against Iran for its suspect nuclear programme, the prospects of doing business with an international pariah was one of the factors that led India drag its feet on the project. India has spent $100 million on building a 220km road in western Afghanistan to link up with Chabahar.

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