India Plans Talks with Pakistan over Peace Pipeline

A00164407.jpgTEHRAN (FNA)- India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer, plans to resume talks with Pakistan over a pipeline to transport natural gas from Iran, New Delhi’s Oil Minister Murli Deora said.

Engineers from India will meet their counterparts in Pakistan next week when the new government takes office in Islamabad, Deora said in an interview at his ministry in New Delhi yesterday.

Iran, which has the world’s second-largest oil and natural gas reserves, agreed to sell gas to India in 1995.

The $7.4 billion project stalled because India couldn’t agree with Islamabad on the fees it will pay Pakistan for transporting the fuel. The 2,100-kilometer (1,305- mile) pipeline was shelved when the nuclear-armed neighbors came to the brink of war after a terrorist attack on India’s parliament in 2001.

“We are very keen that the project goes through,” said Deora, 71. “In the last two months we planned four trips to Pakistan to settle small issues. Let them form the government and let there be an oil minister and we are ready to come.”

India, Asia’s third-largest economy, can produce only half the gas it needs to generate electricity, causing blackouts and curbing economic growth. Demand may more than double to 400 million cubic meters a day by 2025 if the economy grows at the projected rate of 7 to 8 percent a year, according to the oil ministry.

Since 1995, gas prices have risen almost sixfold. Natural gas for May delivery was little changed at $9.687 per million British thermal units at 9:40 a.m. Singapore time on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Yesterday, the contract rose as much as 8.5 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $9.77 per million Btu.

Talks are more likely to progress after Pakistan elected Yousuf Raza Gillani as its new prime minister this week, ending six months of political instability that culminated with the suspension of the constitution in November and the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December.

Iran plans to start exporting gas to Pakistan in 2011. Iran has completed half the pipeline, which can carry 110 million cubic meters of gas a day, National Iranian Gas Company (NIOC) said this month. India uses about 108 million cubic meters of gas a day, according to a BP Plc report.

The US, seeking to isolate Iran because of its pursuit of nuclear rights, had wanted the project scrapped, although Deora said the US is not opposed to the project.
“The Americans have not told us in clear terms that you should not support or go ahead with this pipeline project,” Deora said. “They are our largest trading partner. But that does not mean they can bully us on where to buy and where not to buy.”

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