New Delhi: Sounding an extremely optimistic note on Indian participation in the crucial Chabahar-Zahedan railway line project, India on Thursday said Iranian Deputy Minister and head of Iranian railways Saeed Rasouli had invited the Indian Ambassador in Tehran for a “good” meeting on Monday “to review the cooperation under this project”, adding that Mr. Rasouli had stated that “vested interests” are behind reports that Iran has excluded India in this project.
The Iranian sea-port of Chabahar has proved crucial for India as it provides sea-land connectivity to Afghanistan bypassing the land route through Pakistan. Zahedan in Iran is located near the Afghan border and the Chabahar-Zahedan rail route could further help smooth movement of Indian goods to Afghanistan.
It may be recalled that amid recent reports of deep rumblings in Indo-Iranian bilateral ties, India had last week said that an Indian company had significantly scaled up operations at the strategically-located Iranian sea-port of Chabahar in the past two years despite the difficulties posed by US sanctions on Iran but at the same time had put the onus on Tehran regarding the Chabahar-Zahedan railway line in the west Asian country, saying Iran “was to nominate an authorised entity to finalise outstanding technical and financial issues” and that “this is still awaited” by New Delhi. New Delhi had further assured that “proactive measures are currently underway to increase the usage of Chabahar Port, both for Afghanistan and Central Asia”.
On Thursday, MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, “Our Ambassador was invited by the Deputy Minister and head of Iranian railways Saeed Rasouli (on July 20) for a meeting to review the cooperation under this project and they had a good meeting. The ongoing cooperation was reviewed in that meeting. ... I would like to particularly draw your attention to the statement of the Deputy Minister and head of Iranian railways who said that vested interests are behind reports that Iran has excluded India in this project.”
But curiously, Iranian sources had last week confirmed that “in the absence of an active Indian engagement and partnership”, Iran has gone ahead with the construction of the Chabahar-Zahedan transit route.
That had come at a time of reports of massive Chinese financial assistance to Iran amid the US sanctions which has posed a huge strategic challenge to India. It is well-known that Iran has grown extremely unhappy in the past few months due to Indian strategic proximity to the United States under President Donald Trump who had imposed sanctions on Iran.
In its statement on July 16, the MEA had said, “Insofar as the proposed (Chabahar-Zahedan) railway line is concerned, IRCON was appointed by Government of India to assess the feasibility of the project. It was working with CDTIC, an Iranian company under their Ministry of Railways in that regard. IRCON has completed the site inspection and review of the feasibility report. Detailed discussions were thereafter held on other relevant aspects of the project, which had to take into account the financial challenges that Iran was facing. In December 2019, these issues were reviewed in detail at the 19th India-Iran Joint Commission Meeting in Tehran. The Iranian side was to nominate an authorized entity to finalize outstanding technical and financial issues. This is still awaited.”