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Ahmadinejad in Pak for pipeline diplomacy

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Islamabad, with hopes that a project to build a $7.6 billion gas pipeline through Pakistan to India will soon be signed.

world Updated: Apr 28, 2008 13:10 IST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived in Islamabad on Monday, with hopes that a project to build a $7.6 billion gas pipeline through Pakistan to India will soon be signed.

"Naturally it will be discussed, though its technical details are being discussed separately," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said as Ahmadinejad's plane touched down in the Pakistani capital.

Ahmadinejad sped straight to a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after being met at the airport by Water and Power Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, according to Pakistani officials.

He is also due to meet Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, whose government was sworn in a month ago, during a visit scheduled to last just four hours.

India and Pakistan said on Friday they were just days or weeks away from finalising terms, such as transit fees, for the cross-border pipeline.

The project has been discussed for years, but was given a new lease of life after India and Pakistan embarked on a peace process in 2004, and the two old rivals scrambled for fresh sources of energy to fuel their rapidly expanding economies.

Ahmadinejad is due to fly to Sri Lanka later on Monday, and arrive in India on Tuesday.

"We are hoping the project ... will be finalised soon," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference in Tehran before Ahmadinejad's departure.

The project has been dubbed the "Pipeline for Peace and Progress" because of the mutual benefits it will bring to India and Pakistan, two countries that have fought three wars since they were divided by the partition of India in 1947

The United States has tried to discourage India and Pakistan from any deal with Iran in the past because of Tehran's suspected ambitions to build nuclear arms. Iran denies any such ambitions.

The pipeline would initially transport 60 million cubic metres of gas (2.2 billion cubic feet) daily to Pakistan and India, half for each country. The pipeline's capacity would later rise to 150 million cubic metres.

Iran has the world's second largest reserves of gas after Russia but has been slow to develop exports partly because of US sanctions.