NEW DELHI: India and Iran on Saturday signed agreements, including Tehran leasing to New Delhi operational control of part of the Iranian east coast port of Chabahar for 18 months.

The $85 million project, just 90km from Gwadar port, creates a transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan.

India is trying to develop Chabahar as a way to gain access to the markets of Central Asia countries as well as Afghanistan.

New Delhi, Tehran sign agreements; Modi, Rouhani discuss peace in Afghanistan

But progress is slow because of concern that President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington may eventually scrap the Iran nuclear deal.

A leasing agreement giving operational control to India of Shahid Beheshti port — phase one of the Chabahar port — was signed in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Later, addressing a joint press conference with the Iranian president, Mr Modi said both countries wanted to expand bilateral ties and cooperation in economic development.

“We will support the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan rail link so that Chabahar gateway’s potential could be fully utilised,” he said. “We want to expand connectivity, cooperation in the energy sector and the centuries-old bilateral relationship.”

Other agreements included a double taxation avoidance treaty, extradition, and cooperation in the farm sector.

Mr Rouhani, who arrived in the southern city of Hyderabad on Thurs­day, will later address industrialists.

Peace in Afghanistan

The Indian prime minister and the Iranian president agreed to step up efforts to bring stability to war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Mr Modi reiterated India’s commitment to help Afghanistan become “a peaceful, secure, permanent, prosperous and pluralistic country” after holding talks with Mr Rouhani in New Delhi on the last day of his three-day visit.

“Looking at our common interests, we are committed to stopping the expansion of such forces that promote international organised crime in terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, cyber crime and various forms,” Mr Modi said.

“We want to see our region and the world free from terrorism,” he added.

There was no mention of financial assistance or providing weapons to help Afghanistan fight militants by either leader. They did not name Pakistan.

India has been a key supporter of Kabul’s government and has poured more than $2 billion into the country since the Taliban were toppled in 2001.

India has been a key purchaser of Iranian oil and gas, and maintained trade ties even as international sanctions were imposed on Tehran over its nuclear programme between 2012 and 2016. However, local Indian media have reported frustrations over delays in awarding a contract to develop a major gas field known as Farzad B in the Gulf.

India’s foreign ministry said on Saturday that “discussions continue” on Farzad B.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2018

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