By Nbader Karimi | AP By Nbader Karimi | AP December 3 at 4:22 a.m.
TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Hbadan Rouhani inaugurated on Sunday a new extension of the country's main Arabian Sea outlet, the strategic port of Chabahar in the Gulf of Oman, which more than triples its capacity and poses a challenge to a port under construction in neighboring Pakistan.
The $ 340 million project was built by a company affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard, Khatam al-Anbia, Iran's largest contractor of government construction projects. It involved several subcontractors, including a state-owned Indian company, and boosts the port's capacity to 8.5 million tons of cargo per year, from the previous 2.5 million tons.
The extension includes five new docks, two of them for containers allowing cargo ships with captaincies of up to 100,000 tons to dock.
It is also expected to make Chabahar, the closest maritime link from Iran to the Indian Ocean, rival to the port of Gwadar, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) across the border in Pakistan, which Pakistan has been building with Chinese investment.
Rouhani, however, played down the rivalry in his opening speech and said the port will bring "more commitment and unity" among the regional countries.
"We should pursue positive competition," he said. "We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome the development of Gwadar."
He said that Iran also plans to link the port to the country's rail network to facilitate the transit of goods to landlocked Central Asian neighbors, and to open a route east and north of Europe through Russia.
Iranian state television said that the inauguration was attended by dignitaries from India, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.
For India, the investment in Chabahar was important as the port will reinforce a commercial route for landlocked countries in Central Asia that would overlook its rival Pakistan. Last year, India committed up to $ 500 million for the development of the port of Chabahar along with badociated roads and rail lines.
And last month, New Delhi shipped its first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan through the Iranian port, part of the 130,000 tons that India plans to export to Afghanistan.
Chabahar also has an international airport and the Navy and Air Force of Iran have bases in the city, which increases the value of the ports.
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