Musharraf, Vajpayee may discuss Iran-India gas pipeline project
This weekend's landmark Indo-Pakistan summit could at last deal with a multi-million-dollar project to run a gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan, officials said. The historic summit at Agra will focus on violence-plagued Kashmir, but "we are well prepared to discuss all other issues," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
This may include the $3.5 billion gas project, which has not yet been directly discussed by the frosty neighbours. The project, first proposed by Iran in 1994, would go some way to meet the needs of energy-deficient India and bring cash-strapped Pakistan billions of dollars in transit fees.
Petroleum ministry spokesman Jehnagir Bashar said it was not clear if the pipeline was on the agenda of the talks between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. "I can confirm the (Indian) foreign office was getting briefs from our ministry about the gas pipeline," he said.
Officials say the gas project could lay the foundation for economic cooperation between India and Pakistan, adversaries in three wars, two of them over the lingering dispute of Kashmir state which is claimed by both.
Musharraf, who leaves for New Delhi on Saturday, has already said that Pakistan was ready to allow the proposed Iran-India gas pipeline to run through the country. "As far as we are concerned, we are ready for that," he said. Pakistan has also "assured safety" of the pipeline in an undertaking to Iran.
This is after New Delhi expressed reservations about the security of about 2,650 kilometers (1,650 miles) of the pipeline traversing Pakistan, which is plagued by sectarian and political violence.
India has even proposed a more expensive under-sea option for the gas to be transported to the western coastal town of Jamnagar.
But Iran, which has offered India at least three billion cubic feet of gas per day from its Asuliyeh fields, favours the land route. If the deal is finalised, Pakistan stands to get about $500 to $600 million annually as transit fees, petroleum ministry spokesman Bashar said.
The plan outlined by Tehran envisaged a foreign consortium buying gas from Iran and selling it to India for 30 years. Iranian officials have assured India that the consortium would accept any responsibility for possible disruption of supplies by the transit state.
India seems to have shed some of its reservations about the safety of the pipeline after Vajpayee in May invited Musharraf to the summit. "Constructing an onshore gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan may figure in talks with Musharraf," Indian Oil Minister Ram Naik said last month.
Amid hopes of an India-Pakistan amity, New Delhi has agreed to feasibility studies for the pipe to run both over land and under the sea.
"These studies are expected to be completed in approximately 12 months," India's foreign ministry said after talks with an Iranian delegation last month.
Musharraf has expressed hope that his July 14-16 visit will forever change the hostile relations between the countries.
"I am going with an open mind and I hope my counterparts in India will also show open-mindedness and this time we will change history," he said in a recent state television program. —(AFP)
© Agence France Presse
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)