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Aiyar: India fully committed to pipeline project

Siddharth Varadarajan

Aiyar denies media reports of withdrawal

BEIJING: Firmly denying media reports that New Delhi had decided to withdraw from the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on Friday said the country was "fully committed" to the venture.

"It is completely wrong to suggest that I or anyone else in authority has advocated India's withdrawal from the project." The reports circulating were false.

Factual position

Describing the factual position, the Minister said the three parallel tracks of bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan, India and Iran and Pakistan and Iran led to a situation where the three countries were now contemplating trilateral discussions. As the February 2005 Cabinet decision, authorising preliminary discussions on the project, envisaged only bilateral working groups, Cabinet clearance was needed for participation in trilateral talks.

India was still reviewing the project structure and various options would be taken to the Cabinet for approval. "While advocating a series of other options, my Ministry is obliged to recall the already authorised option of purchasing Iranian gas at the border without being involved in the project itself," Mr. Aiyar said.

Officials said that as the three countries moved to give concrete shape to the pipeline proposal, the level of opposition from the United States administration had perceptibly increased. Last December, just before the final round of bilateral meetings in New Delhi between India and Pakistan and Iran, senior U.S. Embassy officials visited the Oil Ministry to hand over a demarche opposing the project.

On January 6, seeking to justify the July 18 Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement to a domestic audience, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explicitly linked Washington's offer of civilian nuclear cooperation to its insistence that India back off from Iran.

"We can't say to the Indians, on the one hand, 'you can't - we'd rather you weren't engaged in energy relations with, for instance, Iran, but by the way, civil nuclear is closed off to you," she said.

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