Pakistan, Iran meet on gas pipeline, India absent

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TEHRAN, Sep 26 (Reuters) India has not joined this week's meeting over a project to build a gas pipeline from Iran via Pakistan, saying it has to resolve issues with Islamabad before attending tri-nation talks, Iran's Oil Ministry Web site said.

Hojjatollah Ghanimifard, international affairs director of the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), also said in comments quoted by SHANA on Wednesday that New Delhi would inform Iran of its position on the pricing of gas for the deal.

A four-day meeting, initially planned to involve all three countries, began on Monday in Tehran between the Iranian and Pakistani teams but in the absence of Indian experts.

''India has called for settling remaining issues with Pakistan through bilateral talks before a tri-nation meeting,'' Ghanimifard was quoted as saying.

After long talks, India and Pakistan have agreed in principle to the pipeline project and a pricing formula, but they have yet to agree on a transit fee for the gas crossing Pakistan into India.

Iran says it is ready to sign a billion deal for the project when India and Pakistan settle on a transit fee.

''The Indian side also said they will send a letter to Iran expressing their position on the period for the gas price review,'' Ghanimifard said.

In July, Ghanimifard, said India and Pakistan had accepted Iran's demand for gas price reviews based on market changes. He denied reports by some Indian newspapers that the tri-nation talks over the pipeline had failed after Iran demanded a gas price review every three years.

The pipeline would initially carry 60 million cubic metres (2.2 billion cubic feet) of gas daily to Pakistan and India, half for each country. Under the plan, the pipeline's capacity would be increased to 150 million cubic metres at a later date.

Iran says it has completed 18 percent of the work for the pipeline to bring gas from its South Pars field up to Iran-Pakistan border. Pakistan has yet to begin on a 1,000 km (625 mile) stretch of the pipeline to link Iran with India.

Iran has the world's second-largest gas reserves after Russia.

But sanctions, politics and construction delays have slowed its gas development, and analysts say Iran is unlikely to become a major exporter for a decade.

Iran had earlier said it expected a deal on the pipeline by the end of June 2007.

REUTERS SR PM1910

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