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Iranian Official Blames Uzbekistan For Hydropower Plant Delay

Roghun hydropower plant construction site
Roghun hydropower plant construction site
DUSHANBE -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff has blamed an Uzbek rail blockade for delaying the completion of a hydroelectric plant in southern Tajikistan that Iran is helping to build, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Isfandiar Rahim Mashaei said after meeting in Dushanbe on July 12 with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon that Uzbekistan's blockade of rail traffic bound for Tajikistan has kept crucial construction materials from arriving at the Sangtuda-2 plant.

He said construction of the plant is at least six months behind schedule.

Mashaei inspected the Sangtuda-2 construction site during the weekend and met with Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi. He also participated in ground-breaking ceremonies for an "Iranian House" and a fitness club in Dushanbe.

Uzbekistan began the rail blockade of wagons bound for Tajikistan briefly last fall. It resumed the blockade early this year while publicly opposing construction of Tajikistan's controversial Roghun hydropower plant.

Tashkent says the plant will divert too much water from flowing to Uzbekistan and will damage the country's agricultural output.

Iranian officials warned Tashkent last month about the rail blockade, threatening to retaliate by preventing railway cars from Turkmenistan from crossing the border into Uzbekistan.

Economic ties between Iran and Tajikistan are expanding. Iran has invested in several other strategic projects in Tajikistan, including a $30 million tunnel that would help link the central and northern parts of the country.

But in May, Tajikistan rejected an Iranian proposal for visa-free travel between the two countries.