NEW DELHI (AFP) – US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has called for the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline to be abandoned, saying it could help Iran build nuclear weapons, according to a report on Friday.
“There have been talks among Iran, India and other countries about finding ways of developing Iran’s oil and gas assets,” Bodman was quoted by the Hindu newspaper as saying.
“If that is allowed to go forward, in our judgment, this will contribute to the development of nuclear weapons,” Bodman told reporters, the Hindu said.
“We need to stop this,” Bodman said after attending a discussion on “Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation” organised by a business group in Mumbai, India’s financial capital.
India and Pakistan, despite being US allies in its global “war on terror,” have said they want to go ahead with the the 2,600-kilometre (1,600-mile) Iranian pipeline project as they need energy to fuel economic growth.
Bodman said he had conveyed US concern about the natural gas pipeline at the “highest level” to the Indian government, the newspaper said.
But “we continue to work with the Indian government to finalise” a landmark nuclear deal between the United States and India allowing export of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India, the energy secretary said.
The nuclear deal was signed into law nearly three months ago by US President George W. Bush.
“These two concerns (the pipeline and nuclear deal) operate in separate areas,” Bodman said.
Bodman’s comments came as sponsors of a UN Security Council measure to reinforce sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program were ready to put it to a vote, likely on Saturday.
The draft resolution would ban the Islamic republic from exporting arms and calls for voluntary trade sanctions, among other moves.
Talks on the pipeline began in 1994 but stalled due to tensions between rivals Pakistan and India. Resumption of the discussions followed the start of a slow-moving peace process between the South Asian nations in 2004.
The United States has been pushing for another pipeline to South Asian countries from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan.
Washington accuses Tehran of supporting terrorism and trying to make a nuclear bomb.
Iran plans to lay a pipeline from the giant South Pars gas field to carry 90 million standard cubic meters per day of gas. One third will be used by Iran while Pakistan and India will get another third each.
Separately an Indian news agency reported differences between India and Pakistan over how much Islamabad wants to charge New Delhi for transporting the gas across Pakistani territory.
However, Mukhtar Ahmad, energy advisor to Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, said he was sure the dispute could be settled.
“We are very hopeful we will converge on all the issues” and a tripartite deal will be signed in June, said Ahmad after talks with India’s Petroleum Minister Murli Deora in New Delhi late on Thursday.