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By Nidhi Verma and Frank Jack Daniel
NEW DELHI, July 17 (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has asked India to invest in infrastructure projects worth $8 billion, including an expanded role in developing a strategic port that will open up access to Central Asia, Iran’s envoy to New Delhi said on Friday.
The port of Chabahar in southeast Iran is central to India’s efforts to circumvent arch-rival Pakistan and open up a route to landlocked Afghanistan where it has developed close security ties and economic interests.
Rouhani suggested the larger role for India during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of a summit in Russia days before the historic nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, Iran’s ambassador to India told Reuters.
“The potential between Iran and India is great but we were just facing such a wall of sanctions, wall of American pressure,” ambassador Gholamreza Ansari said.
Ansari said that with sanctions likely to be lifted soon, it was a “golden time” for India to seize investment opportunities because of the two countries’ close trade ties and shared interest in improving Central Asian transport links.
“Connectivity is the main policy of Modi that coincides with Iran’s government policy,” Ansari said. “We have offered them, in connectivy, $8 billion of projects.”
Modi’s meeting with Rouhani was part of a tour of Central Asia focused on increasing India’s role in the region. It was not immediately clear how Modi responded to Rouhani’s offer.
India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Iran and six world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday, clearing the way for an easing of sanctions on Tehran.
India and Iran agreed in 2003 to develop Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, near Iran’s border with Pakistan, but the venture has moved slowly because of the sanctions over Iran’s atomic programme.
The two countries maintained a close relationship despite the U.S.-led trade restrictions that halved their oil trade to 220,000 barrels per day last year.
In May, India’s Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari and his Iranian counterpart, Abbas Ahmad Akhoundi, signed an $85 million deal for India to lease two existing berths at the port and use them as multi-purpose cargo terminals.
Under the new proposal India could help build second and third terminals at the port, as well as railway connections into the rest of Iran, Ansari said.
India has moved slowly on opportunities in Iran in the past, including the giant Farzad B gas field. Ansari said India was the “first priority” to develop Farzad B, but urged New Delhi to move fast: “If they drag their feet, the market will not wait.” (Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Nidhi Verma; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Robert Birsel)