ISLAMABAD, Sept 8 Pakistan said on Thursday it will step up efforts to build a gas pipeline from Iran, despite opposition to the venture from Islamabad's strategic ally Washington.
The project, first proposed in the 1990s, has faced numerous delays. Nevertheless Pakistan's pledge could anger the United States, which has warned the project could violate sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.
"This project is underway, and inshallah (God willing) efforts will be made to accelerate its progress," Pakistani Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh told reporters after meeting visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
The United States said last year Pakistan should be wary of committing to the proposed $7.6 billion Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline because sanctions could hit Pakistani companies.
Western powers believe Iran is using its nuclear program as a means to build weapons. Tehran says it needs nuclear-generated electricity.
Pakistan is plagued by chronic electricity shortages that have sparked demonstrations and battered the weak government. At the same time it badly needs billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
Ties between Washington and Islamabad were severely strained by a unilateral U.S. Navy SEALs raid on a Pakistani garrison town which killed Osama bin Laden in May.
Both sides have this week hailed counter-terrorism cooperation. But it does not take much to damage relations between the two countries, who have vowed to defeat militancy together in the region.
Salehi said in a joint news conference with Shaikh that Iran expects to complete its section of the pipeline in about six months and the overall project would be ready in 2014.
"The need for energy is ever increasing everywhere in the world, be it in Pakistan, in Iran or in India," said Salehi, who also met several senior Pakistani officials, including the prime minister, who is due to visit Iran soon for talks.
"So I think this pipeline eventually will be a pipeline of peace that will reach to as many as countries that would need energy, using Pakistan also as a transit route."
A joint statement said Pakistani and Iranian officials discussed ways of boosting bilateral trade, industrial development, energy and banking during Salehi's visit. (Writing by Michael Georgy)