MUMBAI, Dec 27 (Reuters): India and Iran will hold bilateral talks this week in New Delhi to discuss the progress of a proposed $7 billion Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline and a separate liquefied natural gas deal between the two nations.
Iran's deputy oil minister, Mohammad Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian, is scheduled to participate in these discussions on Dec 28 and 29, after arriving in India today evening.
The official said the three countries had mutually agreed to set a four- to six-month target to finalise the tripartite agreement on the natural gas pipeline project.
"I can assure you that there is no change or delay in the schedule of finalising the project," he said, responding to a newspaper report at the weekend saying the pipeline project was likely to be delayed by six months.
Pakistan and India said this month they hoped to start building the pipeline from Iran to South Asia by 2007 despite US objections.
The proposal to build the pipeline has been on the drawing board for years but uneasy relations between nuclear-armed rivals Pakistan and India prevented any progress.
The official said discussions would revolve around four core issues, including technical specifications, financial structure, measures to boost investor confidence and the price of the gas sold by Iran to India and Pakistan.
"International support for the pipeline is least of our concerns as we have many multinational companies including Russia's Gazprom interested in our project," he said.
The pipeline faces opposition from the United States, which accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms, funding anti-Israeli militias and stirring militant attacks against US forces in Iraq.
Nicholas Burns, a top US State Department official, said last month India had assured the United States that any plans to sign energy deals with Iran were "years away" and existed only in the hypothetical realm.