Pranab going to Tehran to push pipeline deal

By Liz Mathew

New Delhi : Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is making a fresh bid to push the US$ 7.4 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline with External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee going to Iran on July 29 on a two-day visit that has both economic and political dimensions.

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“In fact, the main agenda during his visit to Tehran would be negotiations on the IPI pipeline,” said highly placed sources.

According to sources in the government, Mukherjee’s visit and the renewed focus on the IPI pipeline – an ambitious project to supply gas from the Islamic Republic of Iran to Pakistan and India – would be an attempt by the government’s side not only to diversify its energy basket but also to please its Left allies that have been accusing it of delaying the IPI pipeline project under American pressure.

“Our fresh efforts to make the IPI pipeline project a reality would naturally please the Left parties, who are very keen on it. Bettering our relationship with Iran will also be welcomed by the Muslims in the country,” a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified, told IANS.

The Left leaders, who have been blocking the nuclear agreement with Washington saying that it would compromise the country’s independent foreign policy, have made several public statements relating the contentious pact with the IPI pipeline project.

“If the pipeline deal goes through, then we will know we have an independent foreign policy. If the pipeline deal does not go through, it would mean the American pressure has won,” Communist Party of India general secretary A B Bardhan said last month.

The Communists accused the Manmohan Singh government of succumbing to American diktat when it voted against Tehran twice at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2005 and 2006. They also have charged the government with jeopardizing its ties with Iran for the sake of the nuclear deal.

Washington suspects that the pipeline deal will defeat its larger campaign to isolate Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapon programme.

Congress leaders admitted that New Delhi’s “slow motion” on the pipeline have created “unhappiness” among a section of the Muslim community, particularly Shias. “At least some political parties have succeeded in linking the delay with India’s growing relation with Washington,” said one leader.

During his visit to Tehran, Mukherjee, who has met the prime minister to discuss the pipeline project in detail earlier this week, is expected to put some conditions before the Iranian government, sources in the external affairs ministry said.

According to these sources, India is expected to insist that New Delhi’s investment in the project would be minimum due to its security concerns surrounding the pipeline.

“There is a growing anxiety over a war by the US on Tehran. It will be too risky to invest huge amount of money there,” said the source.

The ambitious IPI pipeline project, proposed a decade ago, is expected to bring 30 million cubic metres per day (mcmd) of gas to India. India currently has around 85 mcmd gas against its demand of 180 mcmd.