Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shakes hands with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari before convening for a trilateral summit in Tehran.—AFP

ISLAMABAD After fourteen years of delayed negotiations over the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran have finally signed the initial agreement in Tehran on Sunday.

The project, termed as the peace pipeline by officials from both countries, has been signed by President Zardari and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on the sidelines of the tripartite summit on Afghanistan security in Tehran.

However, talking to the Iranian official news agency IRNA the Iran's Oil Ministry had said that negotiations on the 'Peace Pipeline' project were still underway between Iranian and the Pakistani delegations, which would allow Iran's gas to be exported to Pakistan.

The Pakistani delegation negotiating the project was led by the advisor to the prime Minister on Petroleum Dr Asim Hussain, who is accompanied by petroleum ministry officials and a technical team headed the managing director Inter State gas Systems (ISGC), Syed Hasan Nawab.

The ISGS is a semiautonomous body looking after Pakistani interests in the international gas pipeline projects to import gas from Iran and Turkmenistan.
 
The federal cabinet had earlier agreed to allow the import of one billion cubic feet of gas at the rate of 80 per cent of the price of crude oil.

'The next phase was to sign the gas sales purchase agreement with Iran,' member of the delegation told Dawn.

Official sources said that soon after signing of the gas sales purchase agreement work would start at the designing of the project.

'Pakistan has already appointed a German designer is 'ILF' for the pipeline,' petroleum ministry sources said, adding that the pipeline would enter Pakistan from its border near Gwader area to Nawabshah, which is the hub of gas pipelines in the country.

The IPI project was conceived in 1995 and after almost 13 years India finally decided to quit the project in 2008 despite a severe energy crises in that country. Pakistan is also facing severe criticism from the US over any kind of economic deal with Iran.

Official sources say that the sudden change of stance from the Pakistani government and the pace of developments at the project suggest that the strong US opposition has softened.

According to the initial design of the project, the 2,700 kilometre-long pipeline would cover around 1,100 kilometres in Iran, 1000 kilometres in Pakistan and around 600 kilometres in India, and the size of the pipeline was estimated to be 56 inches in diameter.

'We are still hoping that India would join the project but in other case the size of the pipeline would be reduced to 42 inches as initially estimated,' an official of ISGS said.

However sources in the ISGS said designing and finalising the reports of financial consultants would take up to one year and the work over the project can be started by mid of 2010.The estimated project completion time is between five years.

Sources in the petroleum ministry said that despite cabinet approval Pakistan would negotiate to get the gas prices lowered.

The official report prepared by the petroleum ministry and the ISGS said that the gas would be purchased for power generation and it would enable Pakistan to generate 5,000 megawatts (MW) power.

The petroleum ministry also said that power generation and usage of imported Iranian gas by heavy industries would result in annual saving of up to $1 billion in furnace oil imports, if the crude oil prices are at $50 per barrel.

The reports and calculations forwarded by the ISGS further said that there would be an annual saving of $735 million, compared to if the equivalent quantity of LNG was imported for power generation, and the saving will increase in line with the hike in global crude oil price.

 

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