Despite mounting US pressure, President Asif Ali Zardari has decided to travel to Tehran this week to finalise a multibillion dollar gas pipeline deal, officials revealed on Sunday.
Under the agreement, Iran would offer a loan of $500 million to Pakistan for the construction of a gas pipeline on its side of the border. However, the project has run into trouble due to an absence of investors fearing economic sanctions by the United States.
A foreign ministry official confirmed to The Express Tribune that President Zardari will begin a two-day visit to Iran on Tuesday to finalise the much-anticipated deal.
The official, requesting anonymity, disclosed that Washington was pushing hard to convince Islamabad to abandon the project.
“But we feel that the project is important for our future energy needs and we will pursue it at all costs,” he added.
Meanwhile, at his weekly briefing on Thursday, the foreign ministry spokesperson rejected reports of US pressure insisting that the Iran-Pakistan (I-P) gas pipeline project was “enormously important” for Pakistan.
“We are an energy deficient country. It is in our national interest to have this project,” Moazzam Ali Khan asserted.
Not only would President Zardari sign a deal on the I-P project, Iran will also set up an oil refinery in Gwadar, Balochistan, it was revealed.
And both the formal agreements would be inked between leaders of the two countries during the president’s upcoming visit to Tehran.
The $4 billion refinery is slated to be constructed in the port city of Gwadar with an estimated capacity of about 400,000 barrels per day.
The proposed cooperation between Islamabad and Tehran is likely to invite more pressure from Washington, sources say.
The US State Department said on Saturday that there were better options available for Pakistan than the I-P project to meet the country’s growing energy demands.
But, Pakistan so far resisted the pressure and has decided to go ahead with the project.
Last week, the Iranian oil minister visited Islamabad and said Tehran would start supplying natural gas to Pakistan by December 2014.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2013.