Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. - File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The national leadership vowed on Thursday to press ahead with the Iran gas pipeline project, sending a defiant message to the US which is pressurising Pakistan to abandon it.

“We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said during a TV show ‘Prime Minister Online’.

Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, making a rare appearance at the Foreign Office weekly briefing, said pursuing energy cooperation agreements and trade with Iran was in national interest.

“Pakistan is pursuing important projects with Iran such as gas pipeline, electricity transmission and also building a more robust trade partnership,” the foreign minister said, adding that “all of these projects are in Pakistan’s national interest and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous consideration”.

The comments from the prime minister and the foreign minister came a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned at a Congressional testimony that Pakistan could face sanctions if it did not give up the Iran gas pipeline project.

Ms Clinton also said that any sanctions against Islamabad, for not observing its (US) Iran restrictions regime, could further undermine the already shaky economy.

Pakistan, which is facing intense energy crisis, believes that the multi-billion dollar gas pipeline which is scheduled to become operational in 2014 is its best bet to partially ease the situation.

Most parts of the country not only face massive power cuts because of electricity shortages, but homes in some urban areas remain without gas used for cooking for several days a week.

“I think all our friends are encouraged to understand the real energy crisis that is in Pakistan. We can’t afford to be selective of where we receive our energy supply from,” Ms Khar remarked.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got a similar commitment when he visited Islamabad for a trilateral summit last month. During his bilateral meetings with Pakistani leaders, Mr Ahmadinejad was told that Pakistan remained committed to expeditious implementation of the pipeline project, 1,000 MW electricity transmission line and 100MW Gwadar power supply.

In a further sign of growing energy ties, media reports say Iran is ready to provide about 80,000 of barrels of crude per day to Pakistan on a 3-month deferred payment.

Notwithstanding the brave public pronouncements suggesting disregard for US pressure, the sense emerging from foreign minister’s another interaction with a group of journalists was that Pakistan was playing a wait-and-see game on the pipeline issue.

While she admitted that there could be repercussions for pursuing the pipeline project, she said: “There are still four months before the sanctions take effect and you have the three plus three process on Iran and if something comes out of that …” she said, adding that the cost-benefit analysis would have to be done before taking a final decision on the matter.

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