New Delhi : India and Pakistan began preliminary talks here Wednesday on the $7.4-billion gas pipeline from Iran. The focus was on the fee payable to Islamabad for the transit and safety of the project, oil ministry officials said.
"We are trying to come to an agreement on how much money we should pay Pakistan for the right of way and the security and safety for the pipeline," an official in India's petroleum ministry said.
Pakistan has been demanding a transit fee for the whole stretch of the pipeline from Iran to the Indian border. But India feels since Pakistan will also use the pipeline, it should only pay for the extension of the project to its border.
The bilateral talks will end Thursday morning and will be followed by a two-day trilateral meeting involving Iran, the ministry officials added.
Petroleum Secretary M.S. Srinivasan is heading the Indian side, while his Pakistan counterpart Ahmad Waqar is leading a six-member team from his country. They will be joined by Iranian special envoy Hojjatollah Ghanimifard Thursday.
Continuing negotiations on the pipeline acquire a special significance for India as the US has sought to link up its landmark civil nuclear deal with New Delhi's position on the Iranian nuclear programme.
The US opposes the pipeline project, fearing the income from it may be used by Tehran to fund its allegedly clandestine nuclear weapons programme.
The 2,300-km-long project, also called the 'peace pipeline', will supply some 60 million cubic meters of gas from Iran daily that will be shared equally by India and Pakistan. It will be delivered at a chosen point on the India-Pakistan border.
Iran is said to have the biggest gas reserves in the world after Russia and energy-hungry Asian countries are keen to tap this potential.