Pakistan PM renews commitment to Iran pipeline

Khawar Ghumman in Islamabad/Dawn
Asia News Network

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - Pakistan and Iran reiterated yesterday their commitment to complete their trans-border gas pipeline project despite US opposition and pressure.

According to sources, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Iranian Vice president Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh expressed their deep desire for speedy completion of the project and also decided to help each other in exploring avenues of alternative financial support.

Their meeting was the first high-level contact between the two countries after a consortium led by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China reportedly backed off last month from providing financial advisory services for the project apparently because of US opposition to the plan.

The Iranian leader said his country had completed its part of the work on the pipeline and urged Pakistan to expedite it on its side. The prime minister arrived here on Saturday night to attend the Boao forum for Asia.

The United States and European Union are pressurising Pakistan to drop the project because of what they call Iran's nuclear ambitions. The West has imposed sanctions on Iran and multinational companies doing business with Iran.

Talking to Dawn, a minister accompanying Gilani said: "We are under tremendous pressure from the US to shelve the project but frankly speaking we don't have other workable options at the moment to meet our energy needs."

The minister said that during recent talks with US officials who wanted restoration of Nato supply lines, the government had urged them to either help Pakistan meet its energy needs or let it go ahead with the pipeline project. Pakistan is yet to receive any firm commitment from the US on the energy issue.

"If the Afghan war is important to President Obama as he heads towards his re-election, we also have general elections within a year and we need to have something to present to our voters. Would any government like to go into elections with people protesting on roads?"

According to the sources, Prime Minister Gilani and the Iranian vice-president also discussed the Afghan issue and called for joint efforts for peace and prosperity in the region.

The prime minister also stressed the need for addressing issues such as extremism and drug trafficking in the region. He said his government had declared Jundullah a terrorist organisation and would take every possible measure against it.

A plan to open Pakistan's consulate in Bandar Abbas was also discussed.

Pakistan, the prime minister said, wanted to increase the volume of trade with Iran to $5 billion.

He supported Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology for peaceful use.

The Iranian vice-president called for greater people-to-people contacts between the two nations.

He said Iran appreciated Pakistan's efforts to play a positive role in the region with its stance of peaceful co-existence.

He also called for enhancing connectivity among Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.

Prime Minister Gilani also sought China's help for completing the gas pipeline.

During a meeting with China's Executive Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, he sought help for small and medium energy projects.

Prime Minister Gilani is one of the key speakers at the opening session of the forum scheduled for Monday. He will speak on this year's theme, "Asia in the changing world: Moving towards sound and sustainable development".