Iran on Tuesday said there had been “tangible” progress in the development of the Chah-bahar port which would serve as the shortest route for ingress into Afghanistan for India.

Asked about the status of the port, about which India and Iran had claimed breakthroughs on several occasions, senior diplomat Seyyed Abbas Araghchi admitted that the “idea was there” but “we have just started in a tangible way.”

The issue is likely to come up for discussions during the Iranian Foreign Minister’s upcoming trip to India which will be followed by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to Tehran next month.

The trilateral talks among Afghanistan, Iran and India on the port just before last month’s Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran marked the first real advance in the concept of India using the Iranian port for transit into Afghanistan and, later, to Central Asia.

“The development of the port and reconstruction of Afghanistan is very important for the security and stability of the region. Security and reconstruction are linked. We can’t have peace and security without taking care of people’s lives,” he observed.

The Chah-bahar port will be much closer to India than the existing one at Bandar Abbas. India and Iran hit upon the idea of using Chah-bahar about a decade back but progress was thwarted due to the West’s antagonism towards Iran on the nuclear issue. It can serve as India’s entry point to Afghanistan and later to Central Asia by getting connected to the Zaranj-Delaram road in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, built with India’s assistance.

In the first trilateral, India, Iran and Afghanistan agreed on preferential treatment and tariff reductions for Indian goods at Chah-bahar.

Mr. Araghchi was speaking to select journalists before the tenth round of Foreign Office Consultations with Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai.

According to official sources here, among other bilateral issues discussed was export of Indian wheat to Iran, consular access and release of fishermen based in Qatar who had strayed into Iranian territorial waters and reiteration of request for Iranian assistance to Indian investigations into the attack on an Israeli diplomat in Delhi.

On the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, the Iranian official felt it was up to India to make up its mind and join the project. “Iran and Pakistan are working on it and we are serious about it. Our part is almost finished and now we are helping Pakistan in finishing their part. Then the pipeline would have capacity for the whole region,” Mr. Araghchi said.

He termed allegations that Iran was behind the attack on an Israeli diplomat here in February as “funny” and wanted to know why Iran would do such a thing? “That is very cheap. Israeli diplomats are not our enemies. We condemn the attacks and we believe there is a conspiracy against Iran, as the same had been repeated in Thailand,” he said.

“We have expressed our eagerness for cooperation with all the countries, including India, from the very beginning. We are cooperating with the Thai police, other countries and India as well. They asked us about sending a police delegation to Tehran, we accepted it and welcomed them. When the Delhi Police were in Tehran, they explained the documents they had got and the facts they had uncovered. We asked them to give the documents officially and we would consider and investigate them carefully. We received those documents just two days ago,” he said.

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