Iran Waves China Card At India On Pipeline Project

  • India absent in recent meetings under U.S. pressture, but will resume talks with Pakistan new government after the Feb. 18 elections.
  • China was eager to step in on the deal in India's place.

MUMBAI - Tired of waiting for the Indian government to come to terms on a natural gas pipeline project, an Iranian official warned that China was eager to step in on the deal in India's place.

“Other countries are eager for implementation of the project. China is putting pressure that she wants to join the project. We don’t have a lot of time,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Syed Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the news media in New Delhi on Tuesday, asking India to “expedite the decision-making.” But he also reiterated that Iran was keen on India’s participation in the project.

New Delhi and Islamabad have been unable to agree on transit pricing for the 1,400-mile pipeline, which is planned to run for about 10 years from Iran's South Pars field through Pakistan to India. Indian officials have indicated they will hold talks with the new government formed in Pakistan after the Feb. 18 elections and then take part in trilateral talks.

Indian officials didn’t attend the last few meetings on the pipeline, citing their problems with pricing. Washington has pressured New Delhi to drop the project, saying Iran will use the money generated to fund its clandestine nuclear program. But Indian lawmakers maintain their only issues over the pipeline are pricing and its commercial viability.

Iran, where hold about 15% of the world’s natural gas reserves, the largest amount after Russia, says its nuclear program is only for energy production and has refused to halt it.

Now, Iran and Pakistan could reportedly sign a natural gas purchase agreement this month for the $7 billion pipeline. Pakistan is likely to import 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day from Iran. China has reportedly said it would import about 1 billion cubic feet a day from Pakistan if India opts out.

In case China joins the project, the pipeline might pass through Gilgit in Pakistan's Northern Area. Pakistan has already approved a project in the same area to widen the Karakoram Highway that links it to China. Pakistan also plans to extend a railway track to China to connect the neighbouring country to the Gwadar port on the Balochistan coast.

(Forbes, The Economic Times)

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