India softens opposition to gas pipeline from Iran

Vol 4, PW 22 (16 Dec 00) People & Policy

Tehran has begun talking Delhi's language, and officials here are taking note.

No one is saying anything openly, but sources in the Ministry of External Affairs confirm that Iranian officials have "sold" India the idea of an overland gas pipeline from South Pars, during two days of talks, which ended on 23rd November. The Iranian pitch goes something like this.

Hand over responsibility for pipeline construction and gas transmission to a consortium of banks and energy companies Make them liable to ensure uninterrupted supplies of Iranian gas to India through Pakistan If need be, give the consortium powers to punish Pakistan and compensate India if Islamabad "turns off the tap" Exclude Pakistan from the agreement, and make it a bilateral one between India and Iran "We are trying to convey that this is not a political project, but one based purely on commercial merit," said SMH Adeli, visiting Iranian Deputy Minister for Foreign and Economic Affairs, "It is a project driven by pragmatic concerns and that certainly makes it more interesting." Sweet music indeed to the ears of Indian officials, who until now, have refused to countenance a pipeline across hostile territory. Gone is Iran's fluffy talk of a "peace pipeline", "security guarantees" and "tripartite agreements".

That's good news for India, but convincing Pakistan will be harder.