US gives 'narrow exemption' to India from sanctions on Chabahar

WASHINGTON: The US has provided a rare exemption to India from sanctions on the Chabahar port in Iran as it recognises that the strategic project is a lifeline for war-torn Afghanistan to get humanitarian supplies from India, according to a senior Trump administration official.

The Chabahar port — being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan — is considered a gateway to golden opportunities for trade by the three countries with central Asian nations. It is located on the Indian Ocean in the Sistan and Baluchistan province of Iran

The port, which is easily accessible from India’s western coast, is increasingly seen as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port which is being developed with the Chinese investment

“We have provided a narrow exemption (to India) for the development of Chabahar that allows for the construction of the port and the rail line that allows for the export of refined oil products to Afghanistan,” a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday, signalling the Trump administration’s commitment to India.

The official said the US would extend the exemption so long as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) do not participate in the port project.

“All of this is contingent on there not being any IRGC involvement in the economic activity or IRGC-related entities being involved in those activities,” the official said at the conclusion of the 2+2 ministerial here.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo along with Defence Secretary Mark Esper hosted their Indian counterparts External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for the 2+2 dialogue between the two countries at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the State Department.

“We recognise that Chabahar potentially plays an important role as a lifeline to Afghanistan in terms for India to be able to export humanitarian supplies and potentially helping Afghanistan diversify its export opportunities.

“That was the reason that drove the Chabahar exemption, and we continue to support it,” the official said in response to a question on Jaishankar praising Pompeo for the US exemption on Chabahar port.

At a joint news conference with Pompeo, Singh and Esper on Wednesday, Jaishankar has said that he is “very grateful to Secretary Pompeo for reiterating the US government support of the Chabahar project, which will immensely benefit Afghanistan”.

During the press conference, Pompeo, in response to a question, said he shared with Indians, his efforts to develop intra-Afghan negotiations and peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

“We have shared with our Indian counterparts the path that we’re headed down. We’re very transparent. We understand the concerns, too, that India has, rightful concerns that they have about a terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and we assured them that we would take that into account,” he said.

The US is hopeful that all relevant parties, including the Taliban, will conclude that the right answer is a significant reduction in violence leading to a ceasefire so that America can reduce its footprint in strife-torn Afghanistan, Pompeo said.

Jaishankar said the US is concerned about the future of Afghanistan. “Which is why we’ve had a large development assistance programme there,” he said.

“We believe that the reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. We have every confidence that the gains which have been achieved by the international community over the last two decades will be protected and preserved in that process,” the External Affairs Minister said. PTI