In its latest push to develop Iran’s Chabahar port project, India handed over two 140-tonne cranes for loading and unloading equipment to the Iranian government on Sunday.
The cranes, part of a full consignment of six Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHC) worth about $25million were sourced from Italy and formally released at a ceremony at Chabahar’s Shahid Beheshti port after official talks between India and Iran.
India’s plans to invest further in the port project are seen as an indicator that the government expects some easing up in U.S. sanctions in the upcoming months, once the new Biden administration begins to address its policy on re-entering the Iran nuclear deal. Sources told The Hindu that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will also hold a quadrilateral meeting in Delhi with officials from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and “another Central Asian countries as observer” to discuss Chabahar connectivity and transit trade opportunities.
“We are happy to supply the port of Chabahar with two cranes… This can solve some of the problems in loading and unloading cargos,” MEA Joint Secretary for Iran-Pakistan-Afghanistan J.P. Singh said, according to Iranian news agencies. He also pointing out that the port has been able to handle 75,000 tonnes of wheat donated by India to Afghanistan so far, along with other operations.
The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the MEA delegation had also held “political consultations” with their Iranian counterparts.
“Recent international and regional developments attach particular importance to this round of general political dialogue,” tweeted MFA official Rasoul Mousavi, indicating that the possible shift in the U.S.’s Iran policy was discussed.
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Shipping and Ports had said the delivery of the cranes “shows India’s commitment to the strategic connectivity of Chabahar port project that will provide access to markets in Central Asia,” explaining that the consignment was part of a bilateral contract between India and Iran signed in May 2016 for $85 million to equip and operationalise the port.
The MEA delegation’s visit comes a month after transport officials of India, Iran and Uzbekistan held their first “Trilateral Working Group Meeting” on the joint use of Chabahar Port. Sources said India has now proposed a few dates for a quadrilateral meeting, which will also bring in Afghanistan to the talks later this year and is awaiting confirmations from all sides.
According to the sources, the focus of the meeting would be to “fast-track regional economic integration” as well as promote the joint objective to “promote peace and stability in Afghanistan and the whole region. The four countries may also discuss a mechanism or secretariat that would handle the joint project at Chabahar in the future.
The cranes delivery comes after several delays due to the impact of U.S. sanctions on various parts of the Chabahar project, which have slowed down both the procurement of equipment, as well as banking and insurance arrangements for developing infrastructure, even though India received a “sanctions waiver” from Washington for developing Chabahar port.
Last July, The Hindu had reported that after waiting for a response for months, the Iranian government decided to drop India from its plans to jointly develop the railway line from Chabahar to Zahedan near the Afghanistan border in July last year and complete the project on its own. Iran has also operationalised a second railway line to Afghanistan, connecting Khaf to Herat. In November, Iran’s Port and Maritime Organisation wrote to the Modi government requesting cranes, locomotives, tracks, and switches signaling equipment, as these remain hard for Iran to access directly.