TEHRAN, Feb 27: President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad decided here on Wednesday to vigorously pursue the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as well as other major projects between the two countries.

According to the president’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar, the decision was taken during two rounds of meetings, one at the delegation level and the other one-to-one. They underscored the need to take full advantage of each other’s resources and expertise.

The leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working hand in hand in overcoming the challenges resulting from the emerging situation in the region.

Besides bilateral matters, the leaders discussed the situation in Afghanistan and regional and international matters.

President Zardari proposed a free trade agreement between the two countries, easing of visa restrictions and revisiting the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers.

The president said the two countries together with Turkey could provide fresh impetus to the Economic Trade Organisation that would strengthen bonds among the people and promote trade and socio-economic development in the region.

Issues of curbing militancy, including enhanced cooperation in border security, and curbing narcotics trafficking also came under discussion.

President Zardari also called on Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei. President Ahmadinejad was present at the meeting. Bilateral relations and the regional situation with special reference to the challenges being faced by Muslims were discussed.

On his arrival here on a two-day visit, the president was welcomed at the Mehrabad International Airport by Iranian Petroleum Minister Rostam Qasemi.

Talking to the president, the Iranian supreme leader said the much-delayed $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project must go ahead despite US opposition.

“The Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is an important example of Tehran-Islamabad cooperation and despite hostilities towards the expansion of ties we must overcome this opposition decisively,” he said, according to a statement issued by his office.

“Accessing safe energy sources is the first priority for any country, including Pakistan. In this region, the Islamic republic is the only nation that has safe energy resources and we are ready to help Pakistan meet its energy needs,” he said. During his meeting with President Ahmadinejad, Mr Zardari said: “I believe that building this project is very beneficial for both sides and we support all the work carried out so far.

“The international and regional players have tried in vain to prevent an expansion of Iran-Pakistan ties but the people have learnt how to act against enemies of Islam.”

President Ahmadinejad said: “Building the gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan is a great and important event, and it serves the two nations’ interests.”

Meanwhile, the US State Department said it was providing Pakistan with alternatives that would avoid any sanctions violation.

“We recognise that Pakistan has significant energy requirements but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs,” said deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell.

“And so we’ve been assisting as a government to contribute to the alleviation of the energy crisis in Pakistan,” he said.

“It’s in their best interests to avoid any sanctionable activity, and we think that we provide and are providing ...a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we’re providing.”

Iran has almost completed the pipeline work in its territory but Pakistan has not yet started construction of 780 kilometres of the pipeline on its side.—APP/AFP

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