Iran's deputy petroleum minister arrives in Pakistan

Iran's deputy petroleum minister arrived in the Pakistani capital Friday to discuss an ambitious US$7 billion ( Ђ 5.8 billion) gas pipeline project opposed by Washington due to Tehran's nuclear program.

Shortly after his arrival in Islamabad, M.H. Nejad Hosseinian told reporters that he would discuss pricing and other technical details of the project with his Pakistani counterpart and other officials.

Iran had proposed the 2,775-kilometer (1,735-mile) pipeline in 1996 to supply natural gas to this Islamic nation and India, but the project never got off the ground, mainly because of New Delhi's concerns over its security in Pakistan.

However, relations between Pakistan and archrival India have improved and they have vowed to go ahead with the project, ignoring Washington's opposition, because they need gas to meet their growing energy needs.

"I am here to discuss pricing formula," Hosseinian said.

He said if an agreement was not reached during his three-day stay in Pakistan, the issue would be further discussed when the oil ministers from Iran, Pakistan and Indian meet in Iran in June.

Hosseinian said he hoped the three countries will finalize all aspects of the project in the next two months.

The pipeline, which is expected to become operational in 2010, would supply up to 30 million cubic meters a day to Pakistan and around 60 million cubic meters of gas a day to India, reports the AP.

I.L.