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India-Iran should expedite Chabahar project: Afghanistan

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Mumbai, Jan 18: Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday said India and Iran need to work together to expedite rail connectivity to Afghanistan and procurement of equipment for the development of Chabahar Port.

The minister who was in the city said that India has good relations with Iran as well as the US and can play a role in bringing both the countries to negotiating table.

Irans Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Despite the US exempting India from sanctions imposed on Iran for the development of the port in November 2018, the European and Chinese suppliers who had bagged contracts to supply equipment for the port have been reluctant to deliver, fearing the adverse impact on their business with the US.

"Chabahar Port is essential for Afghanistan and Central Asia. There are several problems and we made several advances on them. One of them is that our Parliament has recently approved the expansion of the free zone," he said.

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Zarif noted that the problem in the progress of the project is that India has found difficulty in procuring the necessary equipment for the port despite the exemption.

"The other issue is connecting Chabahar to Afghanistan and to Central Asia through rail. We need to complete the Chabahar-Zahedan rail network. We have the infrastructure for that, but we need rails. We are in negotiation with India for providing rails. We produce our own rails but not at the scale we need. So, Iran and India need to work together on procurement of equipment for the port as well as finishing the rail link," he added.

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The minister further said Iran was not interested in renegotiations with the US but if India wants to work in preventing the unrest and bringing the US back to the negotiating table, it would be ready for dialogue.

"India is a dear friend of Iran and has good relations with the US, so it can get the latter to come back to the negotiations. But the most important priority for Iran is to have good relations with neighbours, stability in the neighbourhood and attract more investments in the country. We want to take a leading role in peacebuilding," Zarif added.

The Chabahar Port complex, backed by India, on Iran's coast along the Gulf of Oman is being developed to provide an alternative trade route between India and Afghanistan.

In May 2016, India and Iran signed a bilateral agreement under which India would refurbish one of the berths at Shahid Beheshti Port, and reconstruct a 600-meter long container handling facility at the port.

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Under the agreement, India would build a 600-metre (1,969 feet) cargo terminal and a 640-metre container terminal.

However, only a portion of the two berths has been finished because of deteriorating relations between the US and Iran after the election of US President Donald Trump in November 2016 that culminated with the reimposition of economic sanctions in 2018.

In December last year, India took over operations of part of Shahid Beheshti Port.

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