Iran-India gas pipeline talks begin

Indian officials have begun negotiating a timetable for the construction of a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline running from Iran, through Pakistan, to India.

    India's gas needs are set to more than double in 20 years

    Indian Petroleum Minister Mani Aiyar, who visited Pakistan last month to help set up a joint working group for the $4.5 billion project, told reporters on Tuesday that the two-day talks in New Delhi will also focus on the financial, technical, legal and commercial aspects of the venture.
    The 2600km overland gas pipeline project is strongly opposed by the US, which has made clear its objections to New Delhi buying gas from a country it accuses of attempting to make a nuclear bomb.
    Last week, Pakistan signed an agreement with Iran for the gas pipeline project which is expected to be operational within three years.
    The talks in New Delhi will also discuss the terms of purchase of gas from Iran, the role each country will play in building the pipeline and security for the project, an Indian official said.
    "Our president and prime minister have stated on a number of occasions that we will proceed with this project based on our national interests," Pakistani Oil Secretary Ahmad Waqar told reporters when asked about US opposition to the project.
    India is also expected to discuss with Pakistan its plans to import gas from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan and from the Gulf state of Qatar, officials said. 
    Positive outlook

    Negotiations for the pipeline began in 1994 but little headway was made because of tensions between Pakistan and India, who have fought three wars since gaining independence in 1947 from Britain.
    However, since January 2004, the two countries have been engaged in a peace process and relations are at their warmest in years.
    The pipeline, which will supply gas from the massive South Pars offshore fields in the Gulf, is being seen as a big confidence-building measure between the two countries as it will increase their economic interdependence.
    The gas is needed to fuel demand from industry, vehicles and for cooking at home now estimated at 170 million cubic metres daily and expected to rise to 400 million cubic metres a day by 2025 as India's economy rapidly expands.



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