WASHINGTON: The US media warned on Sunday that the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline might lead to sanctions against Islamabad, although the State Department says sanctions will only become effective if Pakistan finalises the deal.
On Saturday and again on Sunday, President Asif Ali Zardari announced that his government would continue to pursue the $7.5 billion project despite America’s opposition.
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that Pakistan risked imposition of stringent US and UN sanctions if the proposed Iran-Pakistan pipeline deal went through.
During the weekend other US media outlets joined in warning Pakistan that the United States would not hesitate to impose sanctions if the deal was concluded.
But the US State Department has been more cautious in using warning threats against Pakistan to force it to abandon the gas pipeline deal.
Three times this week, State Department’s spokesman Patrick Ventrell was asked if the United States was ready to impose sanctions on Pakistan and each time he pointed out that the deal had not yet been finalised.
In each briefing, he also underlined Pakistan’s acute energy needs and said the United States was ready to offer better alternatives to the Iran pipeline.
The US media too showed some understanding of Pakistan’s position, noting that the long-delayed project could help Pakistan overcome its chronic energy shortages by bringing up to 21.5 million cubic metres of gas a day.
Iran has already built more than 900 kilometres of the pipeline on its soil and is also offering financial assistance to Pakistan for construction on its side.
The United States, however, believes that the project violates sanctions on Iran’s nuclear programme.
In his latest comments, the State Department’s spokesman warned that finalising the deal would indeed cause serious violations of America’s sanction laws.
“If a deal were finalised for the proposed Pakistan-Iran pipeline, it would raise serious concerns under the Iran Sanctions Act,” Mr Ventrell told a briefing. “It’s still hypothetical at this point, but we’ve made that absolutely clear.” The US official said that as a current member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors and of the UN Security Council, Pakistan had “an obligation to join multilateral efforts to convince Iran to adhere to international nuclear obligations”.
Mr Ventrell said the US Iran Sanctions Act made it very clear that any major investment in Iran’s oil industry was a violation and Washington would enforce these sanctions if the deal was finalised.
“We’d have to monitor and see exactly what sort of infraction it would be,” he added. “It’s something we’re working with our Pakistani counterparts on. They know our position, and we’ll continue to discuss this with our Pakistani counterparts,” said Mr Ventrell when asked if the US had discussed this matter with Pakistan.
Mr Ventrell said that being a member of the Security Council had increased Pakistan’s obligations and it knew that preventing Iran from making a nuclear weapon was “an important international responsibility”.