New Delhi: Iran has asked India and Pakistan for an early trilateral meeting to finalise the long-delayed IPI gas pipeline project but New Delhi is seeking to delay talks until its civil nuclear agreement with the United States wins approval of the US Congress next month.
“Iran has separately written to its potential gas buyers, India and Pakistan, seeking dates possibly in August, for a meeting of energy ministers from the three nations in Tehran to sort out handful of remaining outstanding issue impeding implementation of the $7.4 billion project,” officials said.
“Following the invitation, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora met External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who visited Tehran on 29-30 July, to discuss the issue and the two are believed to have agreed to suggest trilateral meeting dates after the US Congress approves the nuclear deal,” they said.
After securing approval from the 45 nations that form the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which governs trade in reactors and uranium, the 123 Agreement has to be approved by the US Congress before it adjourns on 26 September.
New Delhi does not want its business with Iran, a nation US accuses of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions, to be made an issue during the debate in US Congress.
Interestingly, Tehran sought dates for the trilateral meeting after submitting a non-paper that agreed to the latest Indian demands for shifting of gas sale point, identification of fields for gas supplies and the three nations taking stakes in the project.
Officials said Iran in the non-paper submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office has agreed to shift delivery point of the gas to India-Pakistan border instead of previously envisaged Iran-Pakistan border to cut transit risks in volatile Pakistan.
Shifting of delivery point was among the set of three latest conditions New Delhi had put before proceeding on the pipeline project.
The non-paper said that Tehran was prepared to look at a trilateral arrangement for the delivery of gas at the Pakistan-India border.
To the condition of identifying source of gas, Iran has proposed to source the fuel from Phases 19, 20 and 21 of the giant South Pars offshore gas field in the Persian Gulf and said other phases can also be deployed for the project.
On Indian sides final contention to the three partner countries jointly laying the 2,775-km pipeline as a means of providing an additional layer of protection against wilful disruption of gas supply, Iran has stated that suitable arrangements can be examined.
However, Prime Minister’s Special Envoy Shyam Saran had recently cast doubts on the project when he said economic viability needs to be studied in the light of extra insurance costs and the fact that the pipeline will pass through areas which are not stable.
The Iranian non-paper is Tehran’s way of reinvigorating the process, since New Delhi does not appear to be in a hurry to schedule a meeting or resolve its concerns through technical or political negotiations.
The Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline is to supply 60 million standard cubic meters per day of gas to be split equally between the consuming nations.