Iran’s Chabahar port work on but fear of US sanctions loom
The work on Chabahar port that India is building on the Iranian southeast coast was on schedule and the government didn’t foresee an immediate impact on the project of the US exiting the nuclear deal with Iran, officials said Thursday.
India Ports Global Private Limited (IPGPL) managing director Arun Kumar Gupta was in Iran this week to pick the local operator for managing the first phase of the Shahid Beheshti port as part of an interim arrangement, the officials said. The first phase was completed in December. IPGPL is a joint venture between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Kandla Port Trust.
“We will finalise the local operator shortly and put in place an interim arrangement before June 16,” shipping secretary Gopal Krishna said.
Three Iranian companies had sent in their bids, an official familiar with the development said. India signed a short-term lease, as part of the agreement signed during the February visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, to start interim operations before June 17, failing which penalty will be imposed.
Built 90 km from the China-sponsored Gwadar port in Pakistan, Chabahar opens a transit route to Iran and Afghanistan that will also give India access to markets in Central Asia. New Delhi has committed $500 million to the strategically important port that bypasses Pakistan.
While India is not too worried at present but officials said Delhi would wait to see the fallout of US sanctions on the project. Before making a midterm or a long-term assessment, India would also keep an eye on how the other five countries, who were party to the pact, deal with the situation.
Krishna said they were in the process of firming up the arrangement for picking the Indian company that will manage, operate and maintain the container and multipurpose terminals for 10 years.
The process is already behind schedule because the three Indian firms shortlisted in the technical bid stayed away from financial bidding.
“We are now revisiting the tender guidelines after which a fresh tender will be issued” said a government official who didn’t want to be named. As per the agreement, Tehran will lease operational control of the port to India for 18 months. India will equip and operate two terminals in first phase on a 10-year lease.
Officials, however, warned that Trump administration could prevent foreign countries from accessing the US market. Before the 2015 deal, Washington used to sanction foreign firms that deal with the Iran Central Bank.
The sanctions could impede completion of the Chabahar port, strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney has said. A day after he dumped the deal, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday a new round of sanctions was coming. The deal lifted sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran limiting its nuclear programme.