India has committed $500 million to the Chabahar port that it is building as a way to bypass rival Pakistan. (Photo: AFP/File)
In a major boost to New Delhi, Iran on Saturday evening declared that it was "determined" to uphold the policy of cooperation with India on the Chabahar seaport project, adding that Iran has a "long-standing policy of maintaining balanced friendly relations" with Eurasian, East Asian and South Asian powers. Iran also mentioned its "potential long-term cooperation agreements" with both China and Russia in this regard.
In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson S.A. Mousavi said, "Iran has a long-standing policy of maintaining balanced friendly relations with all Eurasian and Eastern/Southern (E/S) Asian powers. Our potential long-term cooperation agreements with China and Russia and our continued joint work with India in Chabahar prove this. We are determined to uphold this policy."
Observers see the statement as a step by Iran to set the record straight and re-emphasise the joint cooperation with India on Chabahar in order to dispel any notion about uncertainty in Indo-Iranian ties.
As reported by this newspaper already, New Delhi has told the Americans that the United States "cannot tell India what to do" in the strategic Iranian seaport of Chabahar, as per what Indian Ambassador in Iran Gaddam Dharmendra told the Iranian media recently. The Indian envoy’s statements were seen as a reflection of the strategic independence that New Delhi is exercising while dealing with Iran on which the US has placed crippling economic sanctions.
However, India had earlier managed to get the US to exempt the Chabahar port from sanctions. 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. 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. 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, New Delhi had also sounded an extremely optimistic note on Indian participation in the crucial Chabahar-Zahedan railway line project. India on Thursday had said Iranian Deputy Minister and head of Iranian railways Saeed Rasouli had invited the Indian Ambassador (Mr. Dharmendra) 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. 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.
All this comes 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.