By Arul Louis
New York, Aug 21 (IANS) By continuing to work with Iran on the Chabahar Port, India does not violate US sanctions on Teheran, according to the Washington official dealing with Iran.
Replying to a question here about the Chabahar port, the Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook on Tuesday said: “We have no evidence that India is running afoul of US sanctions.”
The Chabahar Port that India is developing in Iran is close to the Afghanistan border on the Gulf of Oman. It is an alternative outlet for landlocked Afghanistan, which is otherwise dependent on Pakistani ports that Islamabad does no allow to be used for sending Indian aid to Afghanistan.
In May the administration of US President Donald Trump ended the exemption it had given India and four others from its sanctions against buying oil from Iran and New Delhi has complied with the oil sanctions.
While announcing the stricter sanctions, the US remained silent on the Chabahar port for which it had granted India a waiver in November.
The State Department had said at that time that Chabahar exempting “relates to reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan”.
It added, “These activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan’s growth and humanitarian relief” and Trump’s “South Asia strategy underscores our ongoing support of Afghanistan’s economic growth and development as well as our close partnership with India.”
A reporter asserted that US was exerting pressure on India to stop using Chabahar and asked Hook at his briefing, “How do you reconcile that with your plans to develop Afghanistan?”
Hook said, “I’m not familiar with the evidence that you’re citing and we have no evidence that India is running afoul of US sanctions.”
In December, India sent over 1 million tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan through the Chabahar port and using the 215-kilometre Delaram-Zaranj Highway it built from the Iranian border as a link to the Kandhahar-Herat Highway.
Afghanistan began using the port in February to export dried fruits, carpets and textiles.
Flagging off the exports at Zaranj, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said that “Chabahar Port is the result of healthy cooperation between India, Iran, and Afghanistan this will ensure economic growth” and link millions of Afghans to the rest of the world.
However, the future of the Chabahar project is under a cloud because the threat of US sanctions has kept private companies away from it. The Indian budget announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has slashed allocation of funds for the development of Chabahar Port in India from Rs 150 crore to Rs 45 crore in the financial year 2019-20.
The Indian budget unveiled last month by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman cut the allocation for the port’s development from Rs 150 crore to Rs 45 crore.
Meanwhile, Iranian media reported last week that Russia has expressed interest in using the port as well as investing in its development.
Sergei Milushkin, the managing director of Russia’s Astrakhan Special Economic Zone, visited Chabahar on Saturday and said that Russia could use the port for exports, especially to the Indian subcontinent, Iranian media reported.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)