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New Delhi accepts observer status in tri-nation gas pipeline project

Amit Baruah

Mani Shankar Aiyar to attend steering committee meeting in Turkmenistan



Mani Shankar Aiyar

NEW DELHI: Continuing with its "pipeline diplomacy", India has accepted observer status in the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas project, senior officials said here on Monday.

Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar will travel to Ashkabad, Turkmenistan's capital, to attend the ninth meeting of the steering committee of the project from October 18 to 21.

In January, the Cabinet decided that government representatives negotiate, along with the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline, the TAP and Myanmar-Bangladesh-India (MBI) gas pipelines as well.

After the July interview of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to The Washington Post sent negative signals, senior officials pointed to his August 15 speech, where he specifically referred to the IPI pipeline.

Discussions were also going on on a gas pipeline from Iran to India via Pakistan. "Once this is completed, we will be able to address a major constraint affecting our economy," Dr. Singh said in his Independence Day address.

Six rounds of talks

Since January 2005, six rounds of formal talks have been held between India and Iran and three rounds between India and Pakistan on how to go about the gas pipeline. The three countries agreed to a consensual road map, the officials said.

An India-Pakistan joint statement in Islamabad on September 9, after a meeting of the Petroleum Secretaries in their Joint Working Group (JWG), committed the three sides to finalising the "tripartite framework agreement" by December 2005.

Already, Pakistan Petroleum Minister Amanullah Khan Jadoon has agreed to visit India in October-November and Mr. Aiyar has committed himself to travelling to Islamabad in December. The next meeting of the India-Pakistan JWG will take place in the second week of November.

Though the structure of the international consortium is still to be agreed upon, Gas Authority of India Limited and the Indian Oil Corporation have been identified as partners in the expected one-third Indian participation in the tripartite project.

According to the officials, India could rope in the Russian gas giant, Gazprom, or even a company such as Reliance as partner. All partners will have to be approved by Iran and Pakistan.

To a question, the officials said Gazprom showed interest in the IPI project.

Bullish on Myanmar supply

They were also bullish on gas reaching India by pipeline from Myanmar via Bangladesh. Efforts were being made to meet Bangladeshi concerns such as transit rights to Nepal, which Dhaka linked to a possible tri-nation pipeline, the officials said.

For some time now, the Government has been speaking in terms of looking at duty-free access to Bangladeshi goods as well but no concrete move has been made.

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