TEHRAN: President Asif Ali Zardari was accorded a warm welcome by his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday when he arrived here on a two-day official visit, heading a high-ranking delegation.
At Mehrabad International Airport, Zardari was welcomed by Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi. The Iranian oil minister and his delegation agreed with their Pakistani counterparts to set up a joint contracting company to complete the construction of the IP gas pipeline within the next 15 months.
An Iranian-Pakistani joint contractor has been commissioned to begin construction of he IP gas pipeline. The Iranian and Pakistani oil ministers also inaugurated construction of the 781-km Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline on Pakistan’s soil.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told the visiting Pakistani president that the much-delayed $7.5 billion 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,” Khamenei told Zardari, his office reported.
“Accessing a safe energy source 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 provide Pakistan its energy needs,” said Khamenei.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Zardari, “building the gas pipeline between Iran and Pakistan is a great and important event, and it serves the two nations’ interests.”
Zardari said, “I believe that building this project is very beneficial for both sides and we support all the work carried out so far.” Islamabad has said it will pursue the project regardless of US pressure, adding the gas is needed to help Pakistan overcome its energy crisis.
The IP gas pipeline stretches from the Iran-Pakistan border to Nawabshah. Apart from this, both countries also discussed the finances involved in the project. The interest rate for Iran’s 500-million-dollar loan to Pakistan and the date for the start of the repayment of the loan by Pakistan were also discussed.
Demand for natural gas in Pakistan has outstripped supply in recent years, putting existing reserves under immense pressure. The 2,700-kilometer long pipeline was to supply gas for Pakistan and India, but India has evaded talks. In 2011, Iran and Pakistan declared they would finalise the agreement bilaterally if India was not interested in the project.
According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100 km through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Balochistan and Sindh but officials now say the route may be changed if China agrees to the project.
Iran has almost completed the pipeline work in its territory, but Pakistan has not yet started construction of 780 kilometers (490 miles) of the pipeline on its side, which is said to cost some $1.5 billion.