WASHINGTON, June 17: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has indicated that the United States would not use the threat of sanctions to make India and Pakistan abandon the Iranian gas pipeline.

Asked at a Thursday afternoon briefing whether the US was going to use sanctions if India and Pakistan continued to work on the pipeline project, Ms Rice said: “Well, I think we are sharing our concerns in a constructive way with them, not in a negative way.”

The United States, she said, recognized that energy was a cause of concern to the countries in that region and “the energy situation” was one of the issues that Washington was “going to have to have continuing discussions about.”

Ms Rice also hinted at helping South Asian nations develop alternative sources of energy to meet their energy requirements. “These are growing economies, particularly the Indian economy, which has to find energy supply. And that’s why we have an energy dialogue with the Indians so that we can help to talk about different forms of energy supply,” she said.

In March, the Bush administration offered to help India build nuclear power plants as an alternative source of energy and since then both sides have held several rounds of talks to implement this proposal.

Ms Rice said the US fully understands that the Indians need to find energy sources to meet their needs but also has made its “concerns known about this specific circumstance,” which includes the construction of a gas pipeline from Iran.

The restriction could seriously hurt Pakistan, which receives more than $700 million a year from the United States in economic and military assistance. Currently, Pakistan is also engaged in a dialogue with the US for buying 86 F-16 fighter jets and sanctions could jeopardize the negotiations.

Unlike Pakistan, India only receives $100 million of mostly humanitarian assistance from the United States which are exempt from sanctions.

But despite these concerns, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri is believed to have told Ms Rice when he met her in Washington last week that Islamabad did not want to abandon the gas pipeline project, as it would bring in about $600 million a year.

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