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India gets 'narrow exemption' from sanctions on Chabahar for Afghan aid

Cross-border terror raised during 2+2 minister-level talks in Washington

By Agencies in New Delhi
  • Published 19.12.19, 3:07 PM
  • Updated 20.12.19, 2:28 PM
  • 5 mins read
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In this file photo taken on Wednesday, December 26, 2019, US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and external affairs minister S. Jaishankar address a joint press conference in New Delhi PTI

The US has given a narrow exemption to India from Iran's Chabahar port sanctions, saying that it recognises that the project is a lifeline for Afghanistan to get humanitarian supplies from New Delhi, a senior Trump administration officials has said.

Located on the Indian Ocean in Iran's Sistan and Baluchistan province, the port is being developed jointly by India, Iran and Afghanistan and is looked as a strategic project for trade by the three countries with central Asian nations.

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.

"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 external affairs minister S. Jaishankar praising US secretary of state Mike Pompeo for the US exemption on Chabahar port.

At a joint news conference with Pompeo, Singh and Esper on Wednesday, Jaishankar had 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.

Meanwhile, India and the US agreed to deepen their bilateral cooperation in areas of defence, counter-terrorism and trade, and to work with like-minded countries for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

These decisions were taken at the conclusion of the second India-US 2+2 dialogue where Pompeo along with defence secretary Mark Esper hosted their Indian counterparts Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh for the dialogue at the Foggy Bottom headquarters of the state department.

The first 2+2 dialogue was held in New Delhi in September last year after the mechanism was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump.

In the second such dialogue, India and the US agreed to further expand their defence ties.

Singh told reporters here that strong defence ties were an integral component of the strategic bilateral partnership. “In the last few years, we have made a conscious decision to diversify and indigenise our arms acquisitions. This increased defence trade with the US is one important aspect of this,” he said.

“We are also working to encourage greater collaboration between defence manufacturing sectors in India in the US. The conclusion of the industrial security annex with the US will provide the necessary framework for pursuing the co-development and co-production linkages in the defence manufacturing centre,” Singh said.

Cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan featured during the 2+2 ministerial talks. Singh said India shared its assessments of the situation in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Indian Ocean region in general.

“We conveyed that the extreme rhetoric and belligerent statements and incitement to anti-Indian violence by Pakistani leaders is not conducive to peace,” he said.

Secretary Pompeo, during a joint news conference in the presence of the other three leaders, spoke about cross-border terrorism from Pakistan. “We understand the concerns that India has, rightful concerns that they have about terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and we assured them that we would take that into account,” he said.

“We are determined to protect the American people on the threat of terrorism, and we're determined to work with our great democratic friends like the Indians to protect the people of India as well. And we'll continue to work on it,” Pompeo said.

External affairs Minister Jaishankar said counter-terrorism efforts have been boosted by a growing consensus on the nature of terror threats in the region and the dangers of cross-border terrorism and sanctuaries.

“We discussed ways to address these challenges, including by working closely together at the FATF. We also took note of exchanges between our judicial academies for appreciation of challenges and evolving practices and adjudicating counter-terrorism cases and agreed to further facilitate such exchanges in areas of criminal jurisprudence,” Jaishankar said.

“This is an area where the two countries actually have a very strong history of cooperating. I can only say this in terms of public record, that I am very satisfied with the discussions we've had today,” Jaishankar said.

Pitching strongly for H-1B visa holders, Jaishankar reiterated the significant contribution made by movement of persons in a fair and non-discriminatory manner to the deepening of bilateral ties between India and the US.

“Trade and services, including the movement of persons in a fair and non-discriminate discriminatory manner has contributed significantly to the deepening of ties,” Jaishankar said.

He also praised Pompeo for reiterating the US government’s support to the Chhabahar project, which, he added, will immensely benefit Afghanistan.

During the dialogue, India and America reaffirmed their commitment to work together in support of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region and the two sides agreed to deepen their cooperation to address regional and global threats and to combat terrorism, according to the US State Department.

“The two sides reaffirmed the growing strategic partnership between the United States and India, which is grounded in democratic values, shared strategic objectives, strong people-to-people ties, and a common commitment to the prosperity of their citizens,” the US state department said in a statement.

“During the meeting, secretary Pompeo and his counterparts reaffirmed their commitment to work together in support of a free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific region,” it said.

India and the US also agreed to deepen cooperation to address regional and global threats, combat terrorism, coordinate on disaster relief, train peacekeepers, promote transparent and sustainable infrastructure, and advance maritime security, the statement said.

Both delegations welcomed new initiatives to further strengthen people-to-people ties, including new exchange programs for parliamentarians and young innovators, increased judicial cooperation, the expansion of university research partnerships, and a new bilateral science and technology agreement, it said.

On widespread protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the US said India is a vibrant democracy and has institutions to address concerns of religious freedom and human rights, refusing to treat the country at par with other nations on such issues which constitute the core of its values and diplomacy.