Tehran/New Delhi: 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 as India, Iran and Afghanistan discussed further transit options.
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 on Sunday.
"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 operationalize 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.
According to a joint statement issued following the meeting, the three ministers decided to finalize protocols related to transport and transit, ports, customs procedures and consular affairs.
"Reiterating the importance of Chabahar as a hub for regional economic connectivity and their commitment to work towards this objective, the Ministers commended the joint efforts of the three countries in the recent successful transit of wheat from India to Afghanistan through Chabahar," it said.
"It was also reiterated to organize a connectivity event involving all stakeholders at Chabahar at the earliest so as to increase awareness about the new opportunities offered by Chabahar Port," it said.
The three Ministers agreed that an integrated development of connectivity infrastructure including ports, road and rail networks would open up greater opportunities for regional market access and contribute towards the economic integration and benefit of the three countries and the region, according to the joint statement.
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.
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.