Islamabad, Dec. 23 (Reuters): Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived in neighbouring Pakistan today to discuss Afghanistan, a proposed gas pipeline across Islamabad’s territory to India and a possible US-led war against Iraq.
Khatami, accompanied by his defence, foreign affairs and road and transport ministers, was welcomed by President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali at the start of a three-day visit.
“It is a very pleasant day for us,” Khatami told Musharraf, reflecting a great improvement in relations between Iran and Pakistan since the fall of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.
The two Presidents discussed their neighbour Afghanistan. “(They) reiterated their desire to work closely for the reconstruction of Afghanistan and for the establishment of durable peace there,” said a joint statement.
Iran, a mostly Shiite Muslim nation, backed the opposition Northern Alliance forces in their war against the Taliban, long backed by mainly Sunni Muslim Pakistan.
The conflict fuelled other disputes between Iran and Pakistan and caused sectarian violence in the two countries. It also drew Iran closer to India.
“Khatami’s visit is a turning point in Iran and Pakistan’s relations,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister Mohsen Aminzadeh told reporters.
Iran, which has the world’s second biggest gas reserves, has proposed building a $4 billion pipeline across Pakistan to India to tap into the huge Indian market and help promote peace between the subcontinent’s feuding nuclear powers.
Last year, Pakistan and Iran had agreed to conduct a study into the feasibility of the pipeline project.
Tehran is worried about repercussions from any US-led war on Iraq, which borders Iran.
“In this sensitive situation, we should try to expand relations, including in the political, economic and security fields,” Khatami told reporters before leaving for Pakistan.