Business Standard– In a significant sign of successful trilateral cooperation, Iran President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday inaugurated the first phase of the Shahid Beheshti Port in the country’ southeastern city of Chabahar.
The port opens a new strategic transit route between Iran, India, Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations bypassing Pakistan.
The project in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan Province was inaugurated in a ceremony attended by 60 foreign guests from 17 countries, including Indian Minister of State for Shipping Pon Radhakrishnan, at the port located by the Sea of Oman.
Located 645 km to the south of Zahedan, the provincial capital city, the only oceanic port of Iran will now link its Sistan and Baluchestan provinces to Central Asia and Afghanistan.
“We are happy that the first wheat shipment for Afghanistan has been sent to the country’s people via the Iranian port,” Rouhani said, according to IRNA news agency.
According to an Indian External Affairs Ministry statement issued in New Delhi, Radhakrishnan represented India in the second meeting of the India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on Chabahar port development.
“In the trilateral meeting with Iranian Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi and Afghan Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw, the three sides reviewed and positively assessed the progress in the development of Chabahar port and reiterated their commitment to complete and operationalise the port at the earliest that would contribute to bilateral and regional trade and economic development and also provide alternate access to landlocked Afghanistan to regional and global markets,” it said.
“The three sides also commended the recent joint efforts which led to the transit of first tranche of 110,000 tonnes of wheat from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port,” it added.
The port’s inauguration comes more than a month after the first consignment of wheat from India to Afghanistan was sent via Chabahar – the first shipment after the trilateral agreement to develop the port as a transport and transit corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan was signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Iranian and Afghan Presidents Rouhani and Ashraf Ghani, respectively, in May last year.
According to the Indian statement, at the trilateral meeting, the Indian, Iranian and Afghan Ministers “agreed to further intensify efforts on issues concerning regional connectivity and focusing on Chabahar port development under the Trilateral Transit and Trade Agreement”.
It said that Radhakrishnan “expressed his positive appreciation to the Iranian side on the recent steps taken towards ratification by the Majlis of Iran on the Trilateral Transit and Trade Agreement signed in May 2016″.
“The completion of the internal procedures on the ratification process by Iran is expected to lead to full and early operationalisation of the Transit and Trade arrangement between the three countries though the Chabahar port,” the statement said.
“It is expected that a trilateral coordination meeting of senior officials will be convened at the earliest,” it added.
Shahid Beheshti Port will be regarded as a new development stage for the province, President Rouhani said in Sunday’s event. The capacity of the port is 8.5 million tonnes.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the port would reinforce Iranian-Indiam mutual and regional cooperation. “It also shows the importance of the port in the development of the region and the routes that connect Central Asian states to other countries in the world through the Sea of Oman and the Indian Ocean.”
The port will increase the capacity of loading and unloading of the ships as well as the employment rate in the province, according to an official with the Sistan and Baluchestan Ports and Maritime Organisation.
Ahead of the inauguration, India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on a surprise stopover on her way back from a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting in Russia met her Iranian counterpart Zarif in Tehran on Saturday and discussed the port project among other issues.