- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

GENEVA — Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says Islamabad hopes to position itself as an energy corridor linking oil- and gas-rich countries in the Persian Gulf and Central Asia with the dynamic economies of India and China.

With energy needs growing rapidly throughout Asia, Pakistan’s strategic location puts it in a favorable position to tap this potential, Mr. Aziz said during a recent visit to Geneva.

Brushing aside U.S. sensitivities over a proposed $7 billion gas pipeline running from Iran through Pakistan to India, Mr. Aziz told reporters that his government was engaged in negotiations with Tehran over transit fees for gas piped through Pakistan.

The United States is pressing both Pakistan and India not to deal with Iran, a country Washington considers a sponsor of terrorism.

“We have repeatedly expressed concerns about international participation in energy projects with Iran,” a U.S. official told The Washington Times.

“This concern reflects not only long-standing U.S. policy and law, but also the growing international recognition of the threat posed by Iran’s policies, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terrorism.”

Energy analysts say the benefits to India and Pakistan in terms of energy security and profits are too great to be easily brushed aside. But the United States is adamant that a venture with Iran would not be a plus.

“We question whether dependence on a gas pipeline link with Iran would enhance the energy security of either country,” the U.S. official said.

Mr. Aziz, a former Wall Street banker, said the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline also could include a spur running to western China. Other possible projects include the transport of energy from Tajikistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and on to India, he said.

Mr. Aziz also said a new seaport at Gwadar, near the Iran-Pakistan border, “will be ready in a few months. We are positioning it as an energy port and hub for storage and refining.”

An energy security report from the United Nations prepared for the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg concluded that global security risks have “increased sharply because of steeply rising oil import demand in developing countries.”

Tightness in the supply situation and the heightened threat of supply disruptions due to war and terrorism are adding to the insecurity, said the report, which proposed the promotion of more investment in the energy sector to meet future needs.

Mr. Aziz, noting rapid growth in the economies of both Pakistan and India, said moves to develop his country as a regional energy hub “would be win-win for all.”

Pakistan’s economy is surging by 6 percent to 8 percent a year, India’s by about 8 percent and China’s by more than 9 percent a year.

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