REUTERS[ SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 04, 2006 07:54:48 PM]
TEHRAN: Iran will press on with a contentious gas pipeline to Pakistan even if India does not meet a May deadline to join the project, an Iranian deputy oil minister was quoted as saying on Saturday.
The original plan was to build a $7 bn pipeline linking Iran’s abundant gas reserves, the world’s second biggest, to India’s booming economy. But the project has met strong U.S. objections as Tehran edges closer to the UN Security Council under suspicion of seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies the charge.
India and Pakistan need to balance their energy needs with diplomatic ties to Washington. India has said it will abstain at Saturday’s vote of the International Atomic Energy Agency on reporting Tehran to the world body.
"We will enact the Iran-Pakistan natural gas purchase agreement and start building a pipeline without India if we do not reach an accord with the Indians by May,"
Deputy Oil Minister Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian was quoted as saying by the Poul financial daily. Pakistan’s Petroleum Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon said last month Islamabad fully supported the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline.
Although Pakistan is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism it says the pipeline would aid economic growth and foster better ties with India after years of brinkmanship between the nuclear-armed rivals.