MUMBAI, (Reuters) – India and Iran will hold bilateral talks this week in New Delhi to discuss the progress of a proposed $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and a separate liquefied natural gas deal between the two nations.
Iran”s deputy oil minister, Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian, is scheduled to participate in these discussions on Dec. 28 and 29, after arriving in India on Tuesday evening.
"The biggest challenge before us today is to find a way as to how do we structure the project in a consensual way," an official from the Indian oil ministry, who did not wish to be identified, told Reuters on Monday.
The official said the three countries had mutually agreed to set a four- to six-month target to finalise the tripartite agreement on the natural gas pipeline project.
"I can assure you that there is no change or delay in the schedule of finalising the project," he said, responding to a newspaper report at the weekend saying the pipeline project was likely to be delayed by six months.
"We have always maintained that given the complexity and technical nitty-gritties involved in the project we will finalise the details only by April or June 2006," the official said.
Pakistan and India said this month they hoped to start building the pipeline from Iran to South Asia by 2007 despite U.S. objections.
The proposal to build the pipeline has been on the drawing board for years but uneasy relations between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India prevented any progress.
The official said discussions would revolve around four core issues, including technical specifications, financial structure, measures to boost investor confidence and the price of the gas sold by Iran to India and Pakistan.
"International support for the pipeline is least of our concerns as we have many multinational companies including Russia”s Gazprom interested in our project," he said.
The pipeline faces opposition from the United States, which accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms, funding anti-Israeli militias and stirring militant attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
Nicholas Burns, a top U.S. State Department official, said last month India had assured the United States that any plans to sign energy deals with Iran were "years away" and existed only in the hypothetical realm.
The official said representatives from all three countries would meet in Tehran in March to review progress in the project.
India, which imports 70 percent of the oil it consumes, is in talks to build gas pipelines from Myanmar, Iran and Turkmenistan to meet the growing energy needs of its expanding economy.