Jaishankar discusses Chabahar with Zarif in Iran

The Asian Age.  | Sridhar Kumaraswami

World, Middle East

Two back-to-back high-level visits could mean New Delhi is concerned over reports of massive Chinese financial assistance to Iran

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) welcoming his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the ministry headquarters in the capital Tehran. (Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry / AFP)

New Delhi: Close on the heels of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Iran, it was the turn of External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar on Tuesday to make a stop-over in Iran during which he held talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

Sources said the EAM was “transiting” through Iran en-route to Moscow to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) foreign ministers’ meeting there on September 9 and 10.

But the two high-level visits from India in quick succession have raised eyebrows and perhaps indicates New Delhi’s concern over reports of massive Chinese financial assistance to Iran amid crippling American sanctions which may pose a huge strategic challenge to India and its development of the Chabahar port.

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. The situation in Afghanistan and role that the Pakistan-backed Taliban may play there could also be weighing on New Delhi’s mind.

EAM Jaishankar tweeted, “A productive meeting with FM @JZarif during a stopover in Tehran. Discussed strengthening our bilateral cooperation and reviewed regional developments. Thank him for his gracious hospitality.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted “Pleased to host my Indian counterpart @DrSJaishankar in Tehran for talks today. Discussed expansion of bilateral relations and trade, and exchanged views on important regional issues. Our active engagement with our neighborhood is our top priority.” The development of Chabahar port and situation in Afghanistan are expected to have been discussed on Tuesday between the two foreign ministers.  

India had earlier managed to get the United States to exempt the Chabahar port from sanctions on Iran.  India had in July said that an Indian company had significantly scaled up operations at the Chabahar port in the past two years despite the difficulties posed by US sanctions on Iran. New Delhi had also further assured that “proactive measures are currently underway to increase the usage of Chabahar Port, both for Afghanistan and Central Asia”. India had had also sounded an extremely optimistic note on Indian participation in the crucial Chabahar-Zahedan railway line 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.

Meanwhile in a statement on the EAM’s visit to Moscow, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said, “External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, will be attending the meeting of Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to be held in Moscow on 9-10 September, 2020. This will be the third CFM meeting that India will be attending as a full member of SCO. ... The SCO Summit will be held in the near future. The CFM meeting in Moscow will review the preparations for the forthcoming SCO Summit and also exchange views on international and regional issues. External Affairs Minister’s visit in Moscow will include the participation in the Council of SCO Foreign Ministers and other bilateral meetings.”