WASHINGTON, Jan 5: The United States said it was ‘absolutely opposed’ to a natural gas pipeline project linking Iran with Pakistan and India, even though it was seen as feasible by an Asian Development Bank (ADB) expert. Iran is reportedly nearing an accord with the two countries for the 2,600-kilometre pipeline costing more than seven billion dollars.

“The US government supports multiple pipelines from that (the Caspian) region, but remains absolutely opposed to pipelines involving Iran,” senior State Department official Steven Mann told a forum in Washington on Wednesday.

Mr Mann, the special negotiator for Eurasian conflicts in the State Department’s bureau of European affairs, spoke after an ADB expert told the forum that the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and another planned pipeline project linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan were both feasible.

Dan Millison, ADB’s senior energy specialist, said at the meeting, organized by Johns Hopkins University, that his assessment was based purely on economic grounds and demand from Pakistan and India.

He said that generally, ‘piped gas was economically favourable versus LNG (liquefied natural gas)’.

“TAP (the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan project) and the Iran-Pakistan-India options appear viable and competitive versus LNG,” Mr Millison said.

Mr Mann said any success of the Turkmenistan-sourced project depended on Long-term market and supply reliability and participation of ‘heavy hitters’ from the private sector.

India has said construction of the pipeline should start next year and be operational by 2011.

Mr Millison said although the 1,680-kilometre trans-Afghan gas pipeline was shorter and less costly, as of last month, India and Pakistan were ‘moving forward’ with the project with Iran.

A multilateral institution official, who attended the Washington meeting, said a key question was whether India and Pakistan were prepared to go ahead with the trilateral project despite US opposition.—AFP

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