India gets another blow in Iranian Port Project after Pipeline contract failure

India gets another blow in Iranian Port Project after Pipeline contract failure
New Delhi: Western manufacturers are shying away from supplying equipment for an Iranian port that India is developing for fear the United States may reimpose sanctions on Tehran, Indian officials say, dealing a blow to Delhi's strategic ambitions in the region.

Lying on the Gulf of Oman along the approaches to the Straits of Hormuz, the port of Chabahar is central to India's hopes to crack open a transport corridor to Central Asia and Afghanistan that bypasses Pakistan.

India committed $500 million to speed up development of the port after sanctions on Iran were lifted following a deal struck between major powers and Tehran to curb its nuclear programme in 2015.

But the state-owned Indian firm that is developing Chabahar is yet to award a single tender for supplying equipment such as cranes and forklifts, according to two government sources tracking India's biggest overseas infrastructure push.

U.S. President Donald Trump denounced the nuclear agreement on the campaign trail, and since taking office in January has accused Iran of being a threat to countries across the Middle East.

Uncertainty over U.S. policy is already causing long delays in contracts that Iran has sought with international firms to develop its oil fields and buy planes for its ageing airlines.

The lifting of United Nations and European Union sanctions in 2016 partly reconnected Iran with the international financial system crucial to trade.

But large international bankers with exposure to the United States remain unwilling to facilitate Iranian deals for fear of running afoul of narrower, unilateral U.S. sanctions that remain outside the nuclear deal and uncertainty over whether wider sanctions relief will continue.

India's ambassador to Iran said the process of procuring equipment for the Chabahar port was under way and that some of the customised cranes needed take up to 20 months to build. The banking situation was slowing improving, he added. "Tenders are re-floated for a variety of reasons including technical specifications not being met, etc. Banking channels, in recent months, have in fact somewhat eased," Saurabh Kumar said in an emailed response to Reuters from Tehran. "If some companies do not participate, it really is their business."

India has been pushing for the development of Chabahar port for more than a decade as a hub for its trade links to the resource-rich countries of central Asia and Afghanistan. Access to those countries is currently complicated by India's fraught relationship with Pakistan.

Bureaucratic delays, difficult negotiations with Iran and the risk of incurring Washington's displeasure during the financial embargo in Tehran had meant there was little progress on the port until now.