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Sandwiched Pakistan seeks middle course on Iran gas pipeline project

* Nawaz to seek waiver from Tehran regarding $3m per day penalty for failure to complete project by Dec 31 * Nawaz-Rouhani meeting will discuss extension in deadline

ISLAMABAD: The fate of the much-awaited Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project may be settled, at least for now, during the upcoming two-day visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Tehran.
Pakistan is all set to seek a leeway from the Persian Gulf nation regarding the penalty associated with the December 31, 2014, deadline for completion of the project. “Prime Minister Nawaz would categorically tell Tehran that Pakistan is committed to completing the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline project, but currently international sanctions against Iran are the main hurdle, as Islamabad has craved out a strategy to formally inform Iran that the two countries should finalise a middle course regarding expiry of deadline for completion of the project, keeping in view the threat of embargo in the backdrop of US sanctions,” a senior official of the Petroleum Ministry said on the condition of anonymity. 
He added that a waiver, in an attempt to avoid $3 million per day heavy penalty, would also be sought from Iran, as Pakistan lags behind in laying the 781-km-long gas pipeline on its side, while Iran has almost completed its part of the pipeline. Sources in the petroleum and finance ministries told Daily Times that the upcoming high-level meeting, to be held between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani on May 11, would take up an array of issues, including the penalty, extending the deadline and renegotiating the agreed gas price beside taking up the situation in Syria, Afghanistan, Middle East. 
Also, both sides are expected to agree to focus on enhancing bilateral economic cooperation for the common good of both nations. They also said that the higher authorities have informed PM Nawaz Sharif about the possible imposition of the sanctions if Pakistan opts to meet the deadline of the project. Pakistan could face a penalty of $3 million per day if it fails to receive first flow of gas in December 2014, they added. 
“Interstate Gas Systems, a state-run company dealing with gas import projects, could face sanctions if it pushed ahead with the Iran-Pakistan project and even it would not be possible to import compressors,” said an official at petroleum ministry. In March 2010, Pakistan and Iran signed an agreement for the construction of the gas pipeline, while the two countries officially inaugurated the construction phase of the pipeline project on the Pakistani side in March 2013. The project kicked off in a ceremony attended by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at the two countries’ shared border region in Iran’s southeastern city of Chabahar.

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