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Nation special report
NEW DELHI: Iran will hand over Chabahar Port to India for operation and maintenance purposes within a month, Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi has said here.  Speaking to ANI, Akhoundi said that a contract has already been signed and things are moving forward at a good pace.  “We think the Chabahar port will be handed to Indian authorities within one month. It is already operating and will be handed over for management and operation purposes,” the Iranian Minister said.

Reacting to reports about the USA’s intervention in India’s oil imports from Iran, Akhoundi termed USA as an outsider and underlined the need for strengthening of the relationship between New Delhi and Tehran.   “India and Iran’s relationship is essential for region and we are looking at ways to work together. The USA is an outsider in the region, so the insiders should come together and continue their friendship,” he said.

Pakistan’s port Gwadar is in direct competition as a main source of regional transport and according to informed sources, China is very much interest in taking over full control of the port.

The Chabahar port complex is expected to pave the way for millions of dollars in trade and is being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for land-locked Afghanistan. Both India and Iran signed an agreement worth USD 85 million to develop the port in south-eastern Iran.

The agreement, which was signed in the presence of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, gives operational control of Shahid Beheshti port (phase one of the Chabahar port) to India.

Agreement signed

India will take control of Chahbahar port in Iran from next month following an agreement between the Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi and his Indian counterpart on Thursday.“The pact that the ministry has signed with the Iranian government will give us freedom to operate the port independently,” an official from the Indian Road and Transport and Highway Ministry said.
The official, who refused to be named, told Arab News that “the port holds great significance for India in its outreach to Afghanistan and central Asia.” The official refused to comment when asked if the deal had been agreed to ease the pressure of sanctions from the US.

After the meeting in New Delhi, Akhoundi told reporters: “Now we are ready to hand over the port (Chabahar) to the Indian company to operate under an interim agreement.”
When the first phase of the port was inaugurated in December last year, it was hailed as the opening of a strategic route connecting Iran, India and Afghanistan and bypassing Pakistan.
“Iran has been forced to woo its partners because of the trade sanctions by the US,” said Pranay Kotasthane, head of the geostrategic program at the Takshashila Institution, a Bangalore-based think tank.
He said that “this port is the key to fulfilling the goal of free and unfettered transport and transit linkages listed in India’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan.
“A pragmatic diplomatic approach is required to convince the US that if India is to take up greater responsibilities in Afghanistan, the US must not block Chabahar. We have long argued that Chabahar will be a game-changer for Afghanistan.”
Kotasthane said that the Chabhar port should not be viewed as a challenger to Gwadar port in Pakistan. “Even China has welcomed this project, and Iran has invited Pakistan and China to join as well. So there is no reason to be overly sensitive to Pakistan’s outlook with regards to Chabahar,” he said.