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Iran Opens Extension Of Key Port

The port of Chahbahar is Iran's closest sea link to the Indian Ocean. (file photo)

Iran has officially opened an extension of its southeastern port of Chabahar, which Tehran hopes will become a key transit hub for land-locked Afghanistan and Central Asia.

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

"Through this port, goods will be delivered to neighboring countries at cheaper prices and in a shorter time," Rohani said at the ceremony.

Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi said Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman will "soon become an important commercial hub for Iran."

The extension of Chabahar port, Iran's closest sea link to the Indian Ocean, more than tripled its capacity to 8.5 million tons of cargo annually, compared with the previous 2.5 million tons.

Construction was carried out by Khatam al-Anbia, a conglomerate owned by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and a number of subcontractors, including a state-run Indian company.

Rohani Downplays Rivalry

The extension required an investment of $1 billion, including $235 million from India.

Further stages of development are due to expand the port over the next 14 years.

New Delhi has committed up to $500 million for the development of the Chabahar port along with roads and railway lines in order to get access to the Afghan and Central Asian markets while bypassing rival Pakistan.

Analysts say the Chabahar port could challenge Pakistan's Gwadar port, some 80 kilometers from Chabahar, which is being developed with Chinese investment.

However, Rohani downplayed the rivalry in his speech, saying the port would bring "more engagement and unity" among regional countries.

"We should go after positive competition," he said. "We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome Gwadar's development."

In late October, India shipped its first consignment of wheat to Afghanistan from the western Indian port of Kandla. The shipment is to be taken by trucks to Afghanistan from Chabahar.

Pakistan has banned India from transporting goods through its territory to Afghanistan.

Iran is planning to link the Chabahar port with a railway to the northeastern city of Mashhad to further facilitate trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia.

However, the project has been slow to materialise.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP