Sunday, October 24, 2004

On Iran gas pipe via Pak, it's full steam ahead - Newindpress.com

On Iran gas pipe via Pak, it's full steam ahead - Newindpress.com: "On Iran gas pipe via Pak, it's full steam ahead
Monday October 25 2004 00:00 IST
NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh has asked Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar to start talks with his Pakistani counterpart on the proposed Iran-India natural gas pipeline.

The rider is that a dialogue on an onland gas pipeline through Pakistan would be contingent on Islamabad agreeing to an oil product pipeline from India to Pakistan.

“We could recommend to Pakistan that we discuss the setting up of the pipeline from Panipat to Pakistan in the context of our discussions on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline since this would conform to the agreement by both sides to look at these issues in the larger context of expanding trade and economic relations between India and Pakistan,” Natwar Singh advised Aiyar last week.

Singh said that in the interim, Islamabad would have to agree to buy diesel from India supplied through tankers. In the MEA's view, the product pipeline between India and Pakistan could be taken up once the quantum of diesel export reaches a substantial volume.

On his part, Aiyar has initiated the process with a letter to Pakistan's Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon, seeking time for bilateral discussions on the gas pipeline.

Khan has been asked to select the venue in India or Pakistan and the dates in the hope that the two “might meet before the end of the year”.

The flurry of activity follows a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf on September 24 in New York where the two agreed to look at the possibility of a gas pipeline via Pakistan in the larger context of expanding trade relations between the two rivals.

New Delhi is convinced that Pakistan is tempted by the large and recurrent economic benefits - transit fees of $600-800 mn per annum, royalty and cheap gas - that would accrue from the onland pipeline apart from bringing in massive investment, which may help revive the economy and provide employment opportunities to local people.

South Block mandarins insist that any headway in the pipeline talks would be contingent on “complementary progress” on reciprocal transit facilities from India to Afghanistan and beyond, and prior grant of MFN status and normal trade and economic relations by Pakistan.

At a meeting with Singh in Qingdao, China, on June 21, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Kurshid Mehmood Kasuri had suggested delinking the progress and discussion on the pipeline from talks on MFN status and business relations.

The pipeline proposal has been in the freeze for more than a decade as the first initiative for studying its feasibility was launched in 1993 following a pact between India and Iran.

But the study on the sub-sea pipeline could not start and the issue was closed in early 1997 after Pakistan refused permission for offshore marine surveys. Islamabad had insisted that an onland pipeline option be considered, which India did not accept.

It was restarted in May 2000 at the 11th Joint Commission meeting between India and Iran where the two agreed to examine three options for the transfer of Iranian gas to India: overland pipeline via Pakistan, deepwater offshore gas pipeline and LNG.

EXPECT PROGRESS ON PIPELINE: AZIZ

ISLAMABAD: Admitting there are “some problems” in starting the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz has told Daily Times that he expects progress to be made in talks on the Indo-Iran gas pipeline via Pakistan.

“I am not saying the pipeline will be installed overnight, but a dialogue should start at least. And it will be of benefit to the provider, whether it is Iran or Qatar.”"

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