Funding projects in Iran’s Chabahar Port has never been an issue for India, Sanjay Bandopadhyaya, the Additional Secretary at India’s federal shipping ministry said on Friday. Chabahar is meant to serve New Delhi’s gateway to Afghanistan and beyond.
“There has been no dearth of money… There is sufficient equipment and sufficient manpower available at all times. Operations at the port have been going on all the time. All the ships that have made calls at Chabahar port have been serviced,” explained Bandopadhyaya, referring to the fact that the Indian government has raised its investment in Chabahar from last year.
New Delhi has more than doubled its allocation for Chabahar to $13.5 million in 2021-22 from $6.9 million last year.
Bandopadhyaya was answering a question from Sputnik whether the Trump administration’s economic sanctions on Iran were a reason behind India significantly drawing down its presence at the Iranian port. The Indian official was addressing a conference on the forthcoming Maritime India Summit (MIS), which will be held online between 2 and 4 March.
Dubbed India’s biggest maritime conclave, the MIS will attract delegates from 40 countries, including Russia, the US, Singapore, Iran, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
The final day of the summit on 4 March has been christened "Chabahar Day" and will involve discussions on upping New Delhi’s involvement in Chabahar.
Bandopadhyaya noted that Chabahar has always been an “important” and “ambitious” project for India. “It has served as India’s main cargo transportation link to Afghanistan,” he pointed out.
The Indian bureaucrat revealed that four more cranes will be installed by India at the Chabahar port in the next three months. He underlined that the port terminal operated by India already has eight cranes in place.
“Until now, we have berthed 123 vessels at the port… Nearly 14,000 TEUs (Twenty Equivalent Units) of container cargo and 1.8 million tonnes of bulk cargo has been transported through the port,” he declared.
The Indian official also highlighted that India was closely working with Uzbekistan, Armenia and Russia, as well as Iran, in a step towards involving other governments in the port project to maximise its commercial viability.
Oleg Ryazantsev, Russia’s deputy minister for industry and trade and Iran’s roads and urban development minister Mohammad Eslami are among the list of speakers set to address the MIS on the Chabahar Day.
Biden’s Election Victory
The increased budget allocation by India in Chabahar is in line with India’s renewed engagement with Iran this year, which has coincided with Joe Biden's election victory.
Trump’s imposition of economic sanctions on Iran after pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) - aka the Iran Nuclear Deal - in May 2018 are said to have affected Indian interests in Chabahar. For India, Chabahar offers a route to Afghanistan, since Pakistan has repeatedly denied passage to Afghanistan-bound cargo vehicles from India.
Although New Delhi’s operations in Chabahar had been largely exempted from US sanctions, former Indian diplomats have told Sputnik that the “risk of secondary sanctions” had always bothered Indian companies during the Trump era.
Former US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, had reportedly even questioned India’s relations with Iran during one of his visits to the country, and had even asked his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, once how New Delhi could conduct business with a regime suspected of financing terrorist activities.
However, the advent of Biden in Washington has been accompanied by a willingness from Washington to re-open negotiations on getting US back into the Iran nuclear deal Trump quit.
In an interview with CBS News this month, Biden said that although he wasn’t authorising America’s re-entry to the JCPOA, he would still wait for Tehran to comply with its side of the bargain on the JCPOA, referring to inspections of Iranian nuclear sites by international observers.
In the clearest sign yet that America intends to re-join the JCPOA, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last week that the US “would accept an invitation” from the European countries to reopen negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.
Responding to the US, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday that the US must admit that only after it "left the JCPOA, Iran deviated from the deal" but until then "Iran was living up to its limits".
Zarif advised the US and European countries, which are part of the deal, that if they want Iran to reverse its remedial actions taken under Article 36 of the JCPOA and return to full commitments under the deal, they must remove the cause of Iran’s measures instead of asking Iran to stop its remedial steps.