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Iran curbs won’t hit Chabahar: US signals climbdown for India

Keen to remove wrinkles ahead of the in-person Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting, the US has sought to assuage India’s concerns regarding Chabahar port.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: October 25, 2020 9:21:46 am
Mike Pompeo warns of China risks, ahead of India visitMike Pompeo. (File)

Ahead of the Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting starting Monday, the Trump administration has told the Indian government that its development of the Chabahar port in Iran will not be impacted by US sanctions on 18 major Iranian banks, The Sunday Express has learnt.

This assumes significance since the Trump administration, going to elections on November 3, has been extremely hawkish on Iran, but has made this exception to New Delhi.

The message on the Chabahar port development was communicated by Washington to New Delhi through diplomatic channels on October 12, it is learnt.

It came amid the US Treasury department’s sanctions on 18 major Iranian banks and a 45-day wind-down period starting October 8 — this requires all non-American persons to wind down activities and transactions with the Iranian financial sector and institutions. It had led to apprehension in New Delhi, and the Indian government had reached out to Washington on the fate of the Chabahar port development.

Keen to remove wrinkles ahead of the in-person Indo-US 2+2 ministerial meeting, the US has sought to assuage India’s concerns regarding Chabahar port.

The US administration told New Delhi that sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine and medical devices to Iran, by both US and non-Americans, is permitted. Also, waivers granted by the US State Department and exceptions in US law which allow reconstruction and development of Afghanistan remain valid, it is learnt.

Also read | Monitoring India-China issue, don’t want situation to escalate: top US official

This has taken off the table one of the contentious issues — US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mark T Esper are flying to New Delhi to meet their counterparts, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on October 26-27.

The fact that they are visiting days ahead of the US elections signals the importance that Washington attaches to Indo-US ties, and displays bipartisan support to stronger ties with New Delhi. A change of guard in the US Presidency — if Joe Biden wins — may witness change in US policy towards Iran.

The humanitarian assistance through Chabahar Port has been one of the key elements of India’s Afghanistan strategy. India shipped a full consignment of 75,000 MT (metric tonnes) of wheat as humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan on September 28, which reached Chabahar on September 30. The port has played a central role in trans-shipment.

he assistance of 75,000 MT of wheat was fully dispatched from Kandla port to Afghanistan in a time-bound manner within five months via Chabahar port in 10 consignments and 3,237 containers. The first vessel left Kandla port on April 10 this year, carrying 5,022 MT of wheat in 203 containers.

This humanitarian gesture was meant to ensure food security during the difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chabahar port has emerged as the “connecting point” for the region to deliver humanitarian assistance during the pandemic. The port, sources said, is a symbol of India’s people-centric approach in diplomacy.

It was for this reason that the US provided exemption to India from sanctions on Chabahar port as it recognizes that this project is a lifeline for Afghanistan to receive humanitarian supplies from India.

India also dispatched 20,000 litres of pesticide ‘Malathion 96% ULV’ to help Iran deal with the locust crisis. The shipment of pesticide arrived in Chabahar port and was handed over to Iran on July 14.

The pesticide was utilised by the Plant Protection Organization (PPO) under Iran’s Ministry of Agriculture to arrest the spread of desert locusts to Iran and their further movement eastward to Pakistan and India.

Along with shipments of wheat, the Chabahar port also witnessed trans-shipment of 1,890 tonnes of sugar from India to Afghanistan on August 26. The port has also helped Afghan and Iranian people and businesses to send their products to South-East Asia.

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