US Envoy Cautions Pakistan Over Iran Gas Deal

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The United States has warned Pakistan that a recently signed gas pipeline deal with Iran could run foul of new sanctions being finalized in Congress, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan said yesterday.

Richard Holbrooke delivered the message during a visit to Pakistan, his first since Iran inked a contract earlier this month to export 21.5 million cubic meters (760 million cubic feet) of gas per day to Pakistan beginning in 2014.

The US 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 United Nations to slam four sets of sanctions against Iran and has also unilaterally targeted companies and individuals helping Iran develop its atomic and missile programmes.

The US Congress is currently 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.

While US 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-Qaida and the Taliban.

The US 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.