Focus on India-Russia-Iran transport corridor via Central Asia

New Delhi, (IANS) Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s five-nation tour of Central Asia in July, the focus is back on an agreement for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) that India signed more than a decade ago with Russia and Iran — even as a June 30 deadline for the Iranian nuclear deal draws near.

The INSTC agreement was signed more than a decade ago for better connectivity to the Eurasian region through Iran. The INSTC members met earlier this month and reviewed the status of report on the dry run between India, Iran and Russia via the Caspian Sea, while a follow-up meeting has been slated for July.

The transport corridor across Nhava Sheva (Mumbai) through Bandar Abbas (Iran) to Astrakhan (Russia) and Baku (Azerbaijan) is expected to substantially cut cargo transportation time between India, the Central Asian region and Russia.

In connection with Tuesday’s deadline for Iran’s nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of nations, an official source here told IANS that India has been cautioned by the US to avoid doing business with Iran till the nuclear deal is finalised.

Road Transport and Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari travelled to Tehran last month to sign an MoU on expansion of the Chabahar port in Iran.

In July, Modi is slated to visit Ufa City in Russia for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and BRICS summits, where he will also have an extended meeting with President Vladimir Putin on plans to further the strategic partnership between Russia and India.

Thereafter, he will visit the central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, making for the first visit by an Indian prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru to a region linked by history with India.

While Kazakhstan is a major oil producer and Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have some of the biggest natural gas reserves, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are estimated to have considerable untapped reserves.

India’s historical ties to Central Asia run deep considering the journey of the Turkicised Mongols from the region to India to found the Mughal Empire.

Meanwhile, India and the three-member Eurasian Economic Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus have set up a joint study group to explore the feasibility of a free-trade agreement for promoting bilateral trade and investments, India’s commerce ministry said in a statement here earlier this week.

The study group will submit its report within a year.

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