Oil ministers of India, Pakistan, Iran to meet in June

Oil ministers of India, Pakistan and Iran are scheduled to meet in Tehran in June for talks on building a natural gas pipeline linking the three countries.

The ministerial meeting will be preceded by a meeting in Pakistan of officials from the three countries to resolve technical matters related to the multibillion dollar project, according to a statement by India's petroleum ministry Wednesday.

India, whose economy is pegged to grow at more than 7 percent annually over the next few years, is expected to become one of the biggest consumer of energy in coming decades. It already imports nearly 70 percent of its crude oil needs.

Iran is proposing to sell natural gas to India and Pakistan for around US$6 ( Ђ 5) per million British thermal units via the transnational pipeline. In February, a senior Indian government official had said India was ready to pay up to US$4 ( Ђ 3.3) per million British thermal units for the Iranian gas.

The United States, which is trying to pressure Iran over its nuclear program, opposes investments which benefit Iran and has made it clear to India and Pakistan that it is unhappy with the cooperation. However, the three nations have largely ignored Washington's opposition to the project.

Iran proposed the 2,775-kilometer (1,735-mile) pipeline in 1996, but the project never got off the ground, mainly because of Indian concerns over its security in Pakistan.

However, relations between India and Pakistan have thawed and the two South Asian rivals are holding a sweeping peace dialogue in an attempt to resolve their differences.

India has already held several rounds of talks on the technical, financial and legal aspects of the pipeline deal separately with Iran and Pakistan.

The pipeline, expected to become operational in 2011, would supply around 60 million cubic meters of gas a day to India and up to 30 million cubic meters a day to Pakistan. The project would also provide Islamabad with hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in transit fees. Building the pipeline will cost around US$8 billion ( Ђ 6.6 billion), according to current estimates, reports the AP.

I.L.