- Associated Press - Sunday, June 20, 2010

ISLAMABAD | The U.S. warned Pakistan that a recently signed gas pipeline deal with Iran could run afoul of new sanctions being finalized in Congress, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan said Sunday.

Richard Holbrooke delivered the message during a visit to Pakistan, his first since Iran inked a contract earlier this month to export 760 million cubic feet of gas per day to Pakistan beginning in 2014.

“We cautioned the Pakistanis to try to see what the [congressional] legislation is before deciding how to proceed because it would be a disaster if … we had a situation develop where an agreement was reached which then triggered something under the law,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

The U.S. has discouraged countries from doing business with Iran because of its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.

Washington has worked with the U.N. to levy four sets of sanctions against Iran and has unilaterally targeted companies and individuals helping Iran develop its atomic and missile programs.

The U.S. Congress is finalizing a new set of sanctions largely aimed at Iran’s petroleum industry. Both houses have passed versions of the sanctions and are working to reconcile their differences.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Sunday that local experts have determined the pipeline deal with Iran does not violate existing sanctions. But he did not address the new sanctions being discussed by Congress.

While U.S. officials have expressed opposition to the Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline deal, the issue is complicated by Washington’s reliance on Pakistan’s cooperation to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The U.S. also acknowledges that Pakistan faces a severe energy crisis and has made aid to the energy sector one of its top development priorities. Electricity shortages in Pakistan cause rolling blackouts that affect businesses and intensify suffering during the hot summer months.

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