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Representatives of India, Afghanistan and Iran met a little more than two weeks ago in New Delhi, despite looming USA sanctions, to discuss operationalization of the port, which is seen as key to connect India and Afghanistan to Iran and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

Iran late past year inaugurated the port on the Indian Ocean which provides a key supply route to landlocked Afghanistan and allows India to bypass its arch-rival Pakistan.

The top U.S. diplomat has granted an exception to certain USA sanctions that will allow the India-led development of a port in Iran as part of a new transportation corridor created to boost Afghanistan's economy, a State Department spokesman said on Tuesday.

A dozen Iranian tankers have turned off their transponders as a tactic to evade sanctions, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said in a press briefing.

"These activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan's growth and humanitarian relief", the spokesman said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

And the United States, the official said, seeks to "build on our close relationships with both countries as we execute a policy of maximum pressure to change the Iranian regime's destabilising policies in the region and beyond".

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In a major development, India has managed to keep Iran's Chabahar Port project outside the purview of the sanctions reimposed by the Trump administration on November 5. Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary, said Washington aimed to bring Iranian oil exports to zero, but 180-day exemptions were granted to eight importers: China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey.

"Trump administration made the right move by exempting India for the development of the Chabahar port", Jeff Smith of the Heritage Foundation told PTI.

Aparna Pande of Houston Institute think-tank said that to give an exemption to India's development of Chabahar port was a welcome decision that comes on the heels of the U.S. granting India - along with a few others - a waiver and temporarily allowing these countries to import oil in reduced quantities from Iran.

New Delhi has poured $2 billion into development in Afghanistan since the 2001 US -led overthrow of the Taliban government. It understands India's national security interests.

Meanwhile, US ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass said the US has, after extensive consideration, provided an exception under the Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act.

"We have weathered hard times in the face of 40 years of American hostility relying exclusively on our own resources, and today we and our partners across the globe will ensure that our people are least affected by this indiscriminate assault", he said.


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