Sushma's surprise stopover at Tehran ahead of inauguration of Chabahar port

First phase of strategic Chabahar port, party developed by India, inaugurated by Iranian President

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State TV said President Hassan Rohani attended the inauguration on December 3 along with dignitaries from India, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries.

Rouhani added that the port is also politically important "because it will connect us to the eastern and northern countries, and even to European countries in the future, and this is politically important to us".

As per the agreement signed between India and Iran in May 2016, India will equip and operate two berths in Chabahar Port in its first phase with an investment of 85.21 million dollars and an annual revenue expenditure of 22.95 million for a 10 year lease.

Giving a boost to the bilateral ties between India and Iran, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has made an unannounced visit to Tehran, while returning from Sochi in Russian Federation, ahead of the inauguration of the strategically important port.

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Rouhani, however, downplayed the rivalry in his inauguration speech and said the port will bring "more engagement and unity" among regional countries.

Chabahar Port is a collaboration between India, Afghanistan, and Iran, to continue trading through Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan (which is constantly denying entry to India) for transit access and finding an alternative to entering the landlocked central Asian countries.

The Chabahar port's development was accelerated after Tehran signed the nuclear pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with Washington and five other major powers in 2015 to put curbs on its disputed nuclear programme in exchange for relief from punishing economic sanctions.

China, which through its One Road One Belt project is connecting East Asia with Central Asia, had indicated that India too needs to join the project.

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Chabahar as the only oceanic port of Iran is located 645 km to the south of Zahedan, the provincial capital city. It opens up a torrent of possibilities for India: Access to land-locked countries without Pakistan's interference; the development of the region spearheaded by India; and a royal snub to China whose clout in the subcontinent has grown exponentially.

In fact, the feeling in Afghanistan is that they would no longer need to depend on Pakistan for transit trade.

■ The Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea.

Swaraj said India remains committed to working closely with its regional and worldwide partners to restore peace, security, stability and prosperity to Afghanistan.

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The first part of India's construction is scheduled to be finished in 2018. And India's $2bn commitment to Afghanistan for developing supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigaj railway line.

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