DOHA, April 22: Iran, India and Pakistan are close to signing a gas pipeline deal, Iranian and Pakistani oil ministers told Reuters on Saturday, defying US opposition to the project.

The plan to pump Iranian gas to India through Pakistan was first proposed more than a decade ago, but progress has been slow because of hostility between India and Pakistan and, more recently, US opposition to Iran because of its nuclear programme.

Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri said he had an understanding with India and Pakistan and was unconcerned by the US opposition.

“We have a very good understanding,” Mr Vaziri said. “They are willing and Iran is ready.”

Asked when the deal would be signed, he said only: “I hope we are going to have a ministerial meeting in Tehran in June,” adding it would be attended by the same three ministers.

Speaking after talks with his Iranian and Indian counterparts on the sidelines of the International Energy Forum in Doha, Pakistan’s Oil Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon told Reuters only technical issues had to be resolved.

The $7 billion pipeline through Pakistan will link Iran’s abundant gas reserves, the world’s second biggest, to India’s booming economy.

It would carry 150 million cubic metres of gas per day for 25 years, Mr Vaziri said.

Although Pakistan is a key ally in the US-led war on terror, it has said the pipeline will aid economic growth and foster better ties with India after years of brinkmanship between the nuclear-armed rivals.

Iran had said it would go ahead without India if it did not agree to join the pipeline by May.

Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora declined to comment following Saturday’s talks.

AP reports from Islamabad: President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held talks on Saturday to speed up work on the pipeline project to transport Iranian gas to Pakistan and India, the Foreign Ministry said.

The two leaders held the discussion by telephone, the ministry said in a statement. It didn’t specify who initiated the call, or say whether the two also discussed the ongoing controversy over Iran’s nuclear program.

The two leaders agreed that experts of all sides should be asked to expedite the work on the pipeline project, the statement said.

In recent months, officials from Iran, Pakistan and India have held talks about various aspects of the project, despite US opposition.

Washington accuses Tehran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program and has urged its two allies, Pakistan and India, to seek energy from other nations.

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