TEHRAN  -  Iran on Sunday said it has plans to connect Chabahar Port with Pakistan’s Gwadar Port

Chabahar will become a competitive and modern port that can play the role of a gateway to the countries of the region, Iran 's minister of road and urban development said. “Chabahar Port is promising for the countries neighbouring Iran in terms of transportation of goods, and it can prompt development and economic boom in the region,” Abbas Akhoundi said at the opening ceremony of the first phase of Shahid Beheshti Port in the southeastern Iranian city of Chabahar .

“With the connection to the railway network, the port will play a big role in Iran 's development, and it will link Afghanistan and Central Asian countries to the high seas,” he said. One of the plans on Iran 's agenda is to connect Chabahar to Pakistan's Gwadar Port , the minister added.

Iran inaugurated the long-awaited new port at Chabahar Sunday, which it is hoped will be a major new trade hub linking India and Africa with Central Asia.

The first three shipments of Indian wheat to Afghanistan were unloaded in the morning, according to the Iranian ports organisation.

"Through this port, goods will be delivered to neighbouring countries at cheaper prices and in a shorter time," President Hassan Rouhani said at the port, in a speech carried by the state broadcaster.

The project was first conceived in 2003 and has so far cost around $1 billion, with India providing $235 million of the financing as it seeks routes that bypass regional rival Pakistan.

The port has been under construction for a decade by Khatam al-Anbia, the giant conglomerate owned by the elite Revolutionary Guards.

It can accommodate giant ships up to a dry weight of 120,000 tonnes, with further stages of development due to expand the port over the next 14 years.

"Chabahar will soon become an important commercial hub for Iran ," Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi said at the ceremony.

Iran has a broader vision of linking the Indian Ocean port with a railway through Zahedan on the Pakistani border up to Mashhad in the northeast. But the project, aimed at facilitating trade with Afghanistan and Central Asia, has been slow to get off the ground.

Rouhani also underlined the importance of Chabahar as Iran 's only port outside the Gulf, and therefore outside an area that is often the locus of tensions with the US Navy and Iran 's regional rivals.

The project is also expected to make Chabahar , Iran 's closest sea link to the Indian Ocean, a rival to Gwadar Port , some 80 kilometers away across the border in Pakistan, which Pakistan has been building with Chinese investment.

Rouhani, however, downplayed the rivalry in his inauguration speech and said the port will bring "more engagement and unity" among regional countries. "We should go after positive competition," he said. "We welcome other ports in the region, we welcome Gwadar's development."

He said Iran also plans to link the port to the country's railroad network to facilitate transit of goods to neighboring landlocked Central Asian countries, as well as open a route to eastern and northern Europe through Russia.

Iranian state TV said the inauguration was attended by dignitaries from India, Qatar, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries.

Chabahar also has an international airport and Iran 's Navy and Air Force have bases in the city, adding to the ports value.

Indian Minister of State (Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan, who represented India at the inauguration of the first phase of the Chabahar port, also took part in a trilateral meeting on the port development.

During his two-day visit on December 2-3, Radhakrishnan represented India in the second India-Iran-Afghanistan ministerial-level trilateral meeting on the Chabahar Port development.

Reiterating the commitment to complete and operationalise the port at the earliest, Radhakrishnan, along with Iranian Transport Minister Dr Abbas Akhoundi and Afghanistan Trade and Commerce Minister Humayoon Rasaw, reviewed and positively assessed the progress in the development of the Chabahar Port in the trilateral meeting.

The three sides also commended the recent joint efforts, which led to the transit of first consignment of 110,000 tonnes of wheat from India to Afghanistan through the Chabahar Port, which Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj remarked as a gift from Indians to Afghans.

The inaugural trilateral meeting was held in September 2016 in New Delhi.

The ministers agreed to further intensify efforts on issues concerning regional connectivity and focussing on the Chabahar Port development under the trilateral transit and trade agreement at the trilateral meeting.

Besides the bilateral pact to develop the Chabahar Port, for which India will invest $500 million, a trilateral agreement on transport and transit corridor was also signed by India, Afghanistan and Iran .

Radhakrishnan appreciated the Iranian side on the recent steps taken towards ratification by the Majlis of Iran on the trilateral transit and trade agreement signed in May 2016 between India, Iran and Afghanistan.