Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari may head to Iran next week for the formal launch of the construction of a natural gas pipeline that's been in the works for roughly 20 years. Once dubbed the Peace Pipeline, the project would bring natural gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in the Persian Gulf to Pakistan. Washington objects to the pipeline in favor of a rival project from Turkmenistan. Asked about the opposition, the Pakistan president said nobody can interfere with the project's development. With elections coming later this year to Pakistan, however, the project may be as much about energy as it is about anti-American showmanship.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell last week said there were other ways for Pakistan to address its energy needs apart from actions that could violate sanctions imposed on Iran.
"We recognize that Pakistan has significant energy requirements, but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs," he told reporters last week. "It’s in their best interest to avoid any sanctionable activity."
Three years ago, Iran committed to delivering 750 million cubic feet of natural gas through a pipeline floated formally in the mid 1990s. In December, however, Zardari cancelled a trip to Iran to discuss the project, presumably because of the threat of sanctions from the United States. Returning from his visit last week to Iran, the Pakistani president took a different stance on the project, promising to attend the Iranian port city of Chah Bahar next week to inaugurate the pipeline.
There are no signs of easing sanctions pressure on Iran despite word that recent talks in Kazakhstan with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany were described as positive. Washington and its allies believe Iran may be using some of its energy revenue to finance a nuclear program that Tehran maintains is for peaceful purposes. Iran has gone to great lengths to show it's able to court new customers despite the sanctions, however.
Ventrell last week said Washington was working with Islamabad on large-scale energy projects, including one that he said would add another 900 megawatts of electricity to the country's power grid this year. That's enough to meet the year energy demands of an estimated 2 million people, he said. For Zardari, however, it's the vote of millions of more Pakistanis that may be more important than U.S-funded energy projects. Bilateral affairs were scarred by Washington's decision in 2011 to take out al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden without Islamabad's direct consent. Now, Zardari may be trying to take advantage of the growing anti-American fervor by embracing the natural gas pipeline from Iran. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told the visiting Pakistani president the $7.5 billion project was a symbol of resistance against "hostilities." For both sides, it seems that a common disdain for U.S. policy in the region is becoming commonplace.
"Nobody has the power to halt this project," said Zardari.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com