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India hopes to start full operations soon at Iran's Chabahar port: Gadkari

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India hopes to soon start full operations at a portion of Iran’s port of Chabahar as the two countries are close to resolving various disputes including financing, the country’s roads minister said on Tuesday.

Nitin Gadkari is pictured in his office in New Delhi, India, August 26, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/Files

The Indian-backed Chabahar port complex on Iran’s coast along the Gulf of Oman is being developed as a transportation corridor for land-locked Afghanistan.

In May 2016, India signed a deal with Iran to develop two terminals with five berths at the Shahid Beheshti area in Chabahar.

Under the agreement, India would build a 600-metre (1,969 feet) cargo terminal and a 640-metre container terminal. However, only a portion of the two berths have been finished because of deteriorating relations between the United States and Iran after the election of President Donald Trump in November 2016 that culminated with the reimpositon of economic sanctions last year.

In December, India took over operations at part of the Shahid Beheshti port, according to a statement from the Ministry of Shipping released on Monday.

On Tuesday, Nitin Gadkari, India’s Minister of Road Transport, met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi. After the meeting he said the two sides were close to resolving various issues, including over banking payment mechanisms to overcome the U.S. sanctions.

“Regarding the machinery orders and others, already the financial arrangement is ready,” said Gadkari. “There are some problems but we have resolved the issue.”

India has already received a shipment of corn from Brazil at Shahid Beheshti with the help of Iranian operators, Gadkari told reporters.

India, Iran’s top oil buyer after China, will pay for crude imports in rupees to UCO Bank. Tehran will use the funds for importing goods from India.

Zarif said India’s UCO bank and Iran’s Bank Pasargad will start transactions despite the U.S. sanctions.

Mohammad Amir Davoud, deputy chief executive at Bank Pasargad said his bank will open its first Indian branch in western city of Mumbai in three to four months to facilitate transactions.

Gadkari also said Iran had shown interest in buying rails from India and New Delhi had already placed a $85 million machinery order for the port. Iran had shown interest in buying rails and 250 to 300 locomotive engines from India, he said.

Indian firm Ircon is building a railway from Chabahar.

The new port could potentially open the way for millions of dollars in trade for Afghanistan and cut its dependence on Pakistan’s port of Gwadar, located 166 km (103 miles) to the east.

Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Christian Schmollinger