PM’s US visit on June 7th to 8th, adds Qatar to his West Asia outreach

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi  (pictured) will have a busy fortnight of international travel until early June. He is scheduled to pay a visit to Iran on May 22 and 23, a visit to Qatar on June 4 and 5 and to the US on June 7-8.

Announcing the dates for his US visit, the ministry of external affairs (MEA) said the India-US strategic partnership had developed strongly during the two years under the leadership of Modi and US President Barack Obama. It said the main objective of the coming visit was to consolidate the progress made in diverse areas such as economy, energy, environment, defence and security, and to intensify cooperation for the future.

Modi will also address a joint meeting of the US legislative, the Congress. “He will be the first foreign leader to be given this honour in 2016. The US Congress has been a source of strength for the India-US strategic partnership and the India Congressional Caucus is the largest such group in the US Congress,” the MEA spokesperson said. The PM will also have an interaction with chief executives of major US companies.

The MEA has also announced the itinerary of the PM’s Iran and Qatar visits. The visit to Qatar is part of Delhi’s efforts to consolidate its outreach to West Asian countries. The PM had visited the United Arab Emirates in August 2015 and Saudi Arabia in April 2016. Modi’s visit to Iran comes on the heels of visits to that country by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, shipping and road Minister Nitin Gadkari and petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The highlight of the PM’s visit to Iran will be the signing of trilateral agreement on the transport and transit corridor between India, Iran and Afghanistan. The Chabahar port and corridor in southeast Iran will help India trade with Afghanistan via a land route from Iran and circumvent Pakistan. Iran and India had decided to develop Chabahar in 2003 but progress was slow because of geopolitical reasons and Western economic sanctions on Teheran.

Of late, India has pushed for an early conclusion of the Chabahar agreement. The bilateral contract on development and operation by India of Phase I of Chabahar port will be signed between Indian Ports Global and Arya Banader of Iran. Documents on Export-Import Bank of India (Exim Bank)’s line of credit to Iran, including for the port, will be signed as well.

The Indian company will undertake the development of two jetties in Chabahar for a period of 10 years and will transfer all cargo consignments except for oil products. According to the provisional deal, the Indian joint venture will refurbish a 640-metre container handling facility, as well as rebuild a 600-metre multi-purpose berth at Chabahar. Indians have guaranteed 30,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo handing in the third year of operations and aim to handle 250,000 TEUs in the 10th year. To help fund the project, the government of India had in February cleared a proposal by the shipping ministry to secure up to $150 million in credit from Exim Bank.

India plans to participate in the implementation of the second phase of the development of Chabahar, including building a 500-km railway between Chabahar and Zahedan, which will connect Chabahar to central Asia. As for the Afghan link from Chabahar, the existing Iranian road network can link up to Zaranj in Afghanistan, 883 km from the port. The Zaranj-Delaram road constructed by India in 2009 can give access to Afghanistan’s garland highway to provide road access to four important cities of Afghanistan — Herat, Kandahar, Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.

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