IRAN: China's Minister of Railways Liu Zhijun visited Tehran on September 12 to sign an agreement worth a reported US$2bn for Chinese firms to build a 580 km railway running west from Tehran through Hamadan, Malayer and Kermanshah to the Iraqi border town of Khosravi. There will also be a link from Arak to Malayer.

Construction is scheduled to take 2½ years. Up to 5000 pilgrims a day travel between Iran and the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala. The line will eventually offer onward connections via Iraq to the Mediterranean port of Latakia in Syria, with the long-term objective of offering China a southern route to Europe.