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'US never told govt don't build Iran pipeline'

The United States government has never told the Indian government directly that it does not want the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline to be built. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri reports.

world Updated: Apr 17, 2011 10:50 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

The United States government has never told the Indian government directly that it does not want the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline to be built.

"They have said it isn't a good thing in public," said high level sources.

"But never to us directly - possibly because they know the answer they would get."

India is still interested in the Iran-Pakistan pipeline, said the sources.

The barriers to its creation lie in the region rather than Washington.

One, said the sources, "if we are to invest $6 billion in a pipeline and then attach $30 billion of industry to one end of it, we have to be very sure about supply."

Among the proposals has been that Iran be allowed to invest heavily in the industry so it has a stake on both ends.

New Delhi would be happier seeing it as an extension of a larger national gas grid - "which should come up in a few years" - so there are other alternatives in case of a supply disruption.

Two, there is the issue of the physical security of the pipe given that much of it runs through the insurgency-infested Pakistani province of Balochistan.

This is a mitigated concern given that New Delhi has determined that a surprising number of pipelines run through conflict areas, such as in the Congo or West Asia, without suffering any physical damage.

On the other hand, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline is moving forward following the signing of an enabling agreement last year, said sources.

It has overcome some earlier concerns, including technical feasibility of crossing some of the world's highest mountains and concerns about the size of Turkmenistan's gas reserves.

"Everyone along that route says this pipeline can work," said the sources.

India's importance lies in being the largest market for the gas, thus making it economically viable.

At a time when India is worried at the political unrest in West Asia given its overwhelming dependence on that area for 67% of its oil, this pipeline is receiving greater scrutiny.

If completed, the Turkmenistan pipeline would also allow India to tap into the gasfields of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well.