India, Iran, Afghanistan to boost economic, counter-terrorism cooperation
New Delhi: Despite heightened tensions over fresh US sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, India, Iran and Afghanistan agreed to strengthen economic and counter-terrorism cooperation in their first tripartite meeting held in Kabul on Tuesday.
"The meeting focused on consolidating economic cooperation, including Chabahar, as well as enhancing cooperation on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and continuing support to the peace and reconciliation process that is led and owned by Afghanistan," a short joint statement issued following the meeting said.
"The three sides agreed to hold the next round of consultation at an appropriate time in India in 2019," it stated.
While the meeting was chaired by Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the Indian delegation was led by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale and the Iranian side by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.
The meeting comes less than a week after the first ever India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue was held here on September 6 which was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
Tuesday's meeting assumes significance given the concerns in New Delhi over Washington's action against Tehran.
While India is heavily dependent on Iran for crude oil imports, the US wants oil exports from the West Asian nation brought down to zero.
According to a senior US State Department official, expert-level discussions are going on between India and the US on issues related to crude oil exports from Iran.
"We are working very hard with our partners so that there are no disruptions in the market and adequate supply is available to substitute for Iranian oil," Principal Deputy Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Alice Wells said in a media briefing on the 2+2 Dialogue.
The sanctions on Tehran have also put under jeopardy the Chabahar port project in Iran, being jointly developed by India, Iran and Afghanistan.
The port facilitates access to Afghanistan by bypassing Pakistan and is also a vital link in the International North-South Transport Corridor.
Wells said that, during the 2+2 Dialogue, the US side heard the Indian government's rationale for Chabahar as a means of providing access to Afghanistan and its role in connectivity through Central Asia.