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New Delhi committed to pipeline: minister

February 09, 2006

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NEW DELHI, Feb 8: The new Indian oil minister reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to a multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipeline from Iran and said talks with Pakistan on the project would resume next week.

“Pakistan’s oil minister (Amanullah Khan Jadoon) is visiting us on Feb 17, and I will welcome him,” Petroleum Minister Murli Deora said, adding that talks during his trip would focus on the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.

“We are committed to making the project happen as we need gas from Iran and we will continue to pursue the pipeline project,” he told reporters.

Mr Deora was named petroleum minister in a cabinet shuffle earlier this month, replacing Mani Shankar Aiyar, who media reports said had ruffled US feathers with his vocal championing of the pipeline to which Washington is opposed.

Analysts had suggested Mr Deora, who is regarded as having close ties with Washington, might be less outspoken in his support of the pipeline.

Washington, which accuses Iran of seeking to build a nuclear bomb and being a state sponsor of terrorism, has said it is “absolutely opposed” to the seven-billion-dollar trans-Afghan project.

Deora’s statement came after the United States won approval last Saturday from the International Atomic Energy Agency IIAEA) to report Iran over its nuclear programme to the Security Council which could eventually impose sanctions.

Mr Deora said technical-level talks on the 2,600-kilometre (1,600-mile) pipeline from Iran’s Pars field would be comprehensive.

“The agenda of the talks would be project structure, framework agreement, technical and legal issues and political insurance of the pipeline. We are sincere and keen that the project comes through,” he said.

The project would help overcome the nation’s chronic fuel shortage.

“There are hurdles but we are committed,” Mr Deora said.

India plans to initially draw 60 million cubic metres (78 million cubic yards) of gas from the pipeline and increase the quantity to 90 million cubic metres within two to three years. Pakistan has estimated its initial demand at 30 million cubic metres which would double by 2013.

The pipeline talks come at a delicate time as India is seeking to cement a nuclear co-operation agreement with the US that would see Washington assist India with a civilian nuclear energy programme.

New Delhi, which is seeking new sources of fuel to feed its booming economy, has been denied access to nuclear technology for over two decades since testing a nuclear weapon and refusing to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.—Agencies