| ISLAMABAD, Sept 8
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
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
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)