The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Talks push to gas pipeline

New Delhi, Feb. 19: Diplomatic efforts in India, Pakistan and Iran are being stepped up to the proposed gas pipeline in place at the earliest.

A series of meetings has been lined up here and in Tehran, beginning with the Iranian foreign minister's visit. Delhi, which has tasted success with the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus breakthrough, will host Kamal Kharrazi tomorrow. He will hold talks with external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh.

Early next week, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz will be leaving for Tehran for discussions with the Iranian leadership on the pipeline. A senior official delegation from Delhi will leave for Iran on Friday to participate in a techno-economic workshop on the proposed project.

The main reason for Kharrazi's visit is to participate in the Indo-Iranian Joint Commission beginning here from Monday. Apart from the pipeline, the joint commission will provide the countries an opportunity to review the entire gamut of bilateral relations and discuss steps to further strengthen economic cooperation.

Prime Minister Aziz, accompanied by his petroleum minister Amanullah Jadoon, will be in Tehran from February 22 to 24.

Their meetings with the Iranian leadership will take place at a time when Kharrazi will be back in Tehran from his Delhi visit. The two back-to-back meetings will give the two sides the scope to exchange notes on their assessment of how soon the proposed pipeline project can be implemented.

In the techno-economic meeting on the pipeline with their Iranian counterparts, the Indian official delegation will be led by additional secretary of the foreign ministry Talmiz Ahmed.

The possibility of the project being implemented has brightened after the Indian leadership's decision to treat the pipeline as a 'stand-alone' project, delinking it from demands for India's access to the Pakistani market for its goods to Iran and Central Asia.

But South Block sources have pointed out that doubts have been raised from some quarters, both within and outside India, on whether the Americans, in their bid to keep up pressure on Iran, will use Pakistan to slow down the pipeline project.

Since the Iranian leadership will get a chance to hold talks with the Pakistani Prime Minister in the next few days, it will become clear on how keen Islamabad is on the proposed pipeline.

'We are watching the developments closely. But we are sure that a clear picture on Pakistan's intent will become clearer in a week or two,' a senior foreign ministry official said.

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