During a visit to the capital office of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI), the Iranian Ambassador Mehdi Honardoust said his country is desirous of participating in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

While he talked of trade between the two countries, the statement of wanting to be part of the CPEC is the most interesting. India is looking to Iran to help in its transition to an economy fuelled by natural gas, and it is also betting on Iran to be its gateway into markets in Central Asia through the development of the Iranian port of Chabahar. While Chabahar may well develop into a trade hub, India is not China and cannot make claims about economic windfalls with as much certainty.

In an earlier statement in this May, Honardoust said the Chabahar port agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan was “not finished” and “not limited to these three countries”. As of Thursday, Japan stated interest in the port and is considering partnering with India in developing the Chabahar port. This could mean that India either does not have full control over the project, or needs the wallets of other states to make the project successful. In the case of China, Gwadar does not require outside help. Opening the CPEC to Iran will benefit Iran more that it may help China in its grand plan. It makes sense for Iran to downplay any threat that Chabahar is deemed to be, so that it can attract funds without making China and Pakistan worry.

However, while Iran and China may not see Chabahar and Gwadar as rivals, India and Pakistan will. Foreign funded projects from China and Iran, at these mammoth levels of money, will remain mutually exclusive. It is unlikely that India will appreciate Iran becoming part of the Pakistan-China nexus, while it is pouring money into Chabahar.

The envoy also revealed in May that the offer to cooperate had first been extended to Pakistan and then China, implying neither had expressed interest. This is understandable since Gawdar is better placed for Chinese designs. Yet, let us not forget that we still need Iran for natural gas, and the IP pipeline is stuck in limbo. While we gather our wits to deal with the issue of the pending pipeline and the fines that we owe Iran, a soft economic policy must be shown to Iran, and that probably means room for Iran in the CPEC since it is the only thing we seem to have going for ourselves. However, interest being shown is not the same as an offer being made, and the final say will have to be of the Chinese.