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Plans for Iranian port pressing ahead

Updated: 2015-05-07 07:44
By Reuters in New Delhi (China Daily)

India will push ahead this week with plans to build a port in southeast Iran, two sources said, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi keen to develop trade ties with Central Asia and prepared to fend off US pressure not to rush into any deals with Iran.

India and Iran agreed in 2003 to develop a port at Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran's border with Pakistan, but the venture has made little progress due to Western sanctions on Iran.

"Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari will travel on a daylong tour to Iran to sign a memorandum of understanding for development of Chabahar port," a Shipping Ministry source with direct knowledge of the matter said. The deal was expected to be signed on Wednesday, he said.

Encouraged by the prospect of a deal between world powers and Teheran by June 30 on Iran's nuclear program, after which sanctions could be eased, India recently sent a delegation to Iran to scout for trade, energy and infrastructure deals.

The United States cautioned India and others last week against strengthening ties with Iran ahead of a final agreement. But Indian officials said New Delhi could not ignore its national interest and noted a report that a US energy delegation was visiting Iran.

"We don't want to miss this opportunity and will move as expeditiously as possible," the Shipping Ministry source said. India's Cabinet approved the plan to develop Chabahar port last year.

An official at the US State Department said the United States had not seen details of the Memorandum of Understanding, but cautioned that investment in the port was "potentially sanctionable under US law".

The official said the best chance of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran depended on maintaining existing international pressure. He said the United States continued "to have ongoing, frank conversations with India on this issue".

Iran has also proposed a free-trade agreement with India, a Trade Ministry source said. Rupee-denominated trade with Iran, which started in 2012 because of complications arising from sanctions, has almost doubled Indian exports to Teheran in the past two years to $4 billion.

Indian exporters want to build on that, using a free-trade zone being developed near Chabahar to export more to the Commonwealth of Independent States, made up of former Soviet republics, said Mumbai-based Khalid Khan, regional head of the Federation of Indian Export Organisations.

"It will be Modi's gift to Iran and Indian exporters," he said of the port project.

Building the port would benefit India by cutting transportation costs and freight time to Central Asia and the Gulf by about a third.

The port is also central to India's efforts to circumvent Pakistan and open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan where it has developed close security ties and economic interests.

India has already spent about $100 million to construct a 220-km road in western Afghanistan to link up with Chabahar port.

Last week Modi assured Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of India's commitment to build the port.



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