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Pak, Iran to ink pact on pipeline project

Officials from both the countries are expected to sign the pact on a pipeline project that US opposes due to Iran's nuclear program.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2006 12:17 IST

Pakistani and Iranian petroleum officials were expected to sign an agreement on Tuesday on a gas pipeline project that Washington opposes due to Iran's nuclear program, an official said.

Iran had proposed the $4 billion (euro3.35 billion) natural gas pipeline -- which would run through Pakistan and supply both that country and India -- in 1996.

But it stalled, mainly because of India's concerns about the pipeline passing through its archrival, Pakistan.

Now, the two nuclear-armed neighbors are in the midst of a historic attempt at forging peace, and in recent months the three countries have held talks and agreed to proceed, ignoring US opposition.

Iran's Deputy Minister for Petroleum MH Nejad Hosseinian was set to meet with Pakistani petroleum ministry officials Tuesday -- the final day of their talks -- to sign a pact on building the pipeline, the official said on condition of anonymity, citing government policy.

Also on Tuesday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was scheduled to meet with US President George W Bush at the White House to discuss several issues.

US-Pakistani relations have recently become strained, with many in the Islamic nation angered by the US airstrike in a remote part of northern Pakistan that killed at least 13 people, including women and children, on January 13.

Pakistan is a key ally in Washington's attempt to battle terrorism, and Washington has contributed millions of dollars (euros) in aid to Pakistan after the region's devastating October 8 earthquake.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns has said that America opposes the pipeline because Iran is "a very unreliable partner" and is trying to build nuclear weapons capability.

However, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said his country would not bow to US pressure to abandon the project, because Pakistan needs gas to meet growing energy requirements.

First Published: Jan 24, 2006 12:17 IST