Zardari ‘skips’ Iran visit

Zardari ‘skips’ Iran visit

ISLAMABAD: President Asif Ali Zardari reached Britain Friday night on a five-day foreign trip, skipping his expected first stop Tehran.However, President House official sources said the Iran trip was not on the itinerary as it had not been ‘finalised’.

But media this week was rife with reports that the president would start his journey to UK, France and Turkey from one-day visit to the Iranian capital where he would seal the fate of Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline by signing a contract. Earlier on Tuesday, Presidential Spokesman Farhatuallah Babar confirmed to IRNA that President Zardari will visit Iran on December 7 for talks on bilateral and regional issues.The move, of skipping Iranian tour at the last moment, apparently came amid frenzy by US diplomats in Islamabad but official sources asserted that it was impossible for the president to visit four countries in five days, adding that he would visit Tehran after finalisation of schedule.

But media was so certain about Zardari’s Iran visit that a section of local as well as international media, including the BBC, in fact reported about his reaching Tehran late night.The Iran-Pakistan (IP) pipeline project has been in limbo for long primarily because of stiff US opposition to the project, which would bring gas to energy-hungry Pakistan and funds to money-hungry Iran.The agreement was to be inked between Tehran and Islamabad during the November visit to Pakistan by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the text of the contract was not ready and the endorsement ceremony was postponed to this week.

President House sources said that the president will visit Malala Yousafzai in the UK and attend a Unesco-organised conference on the teen education icon in France. On last leg of his visit, he will visit Turkey, they added.Foreign Office officials said that the president will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Saturday’s visit to 14-year-old peace activist, who is being treated at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital. They termed the visit an unprecedented gesture by the president because he did not have any diplomatic engagements in the UK other than meeting Malala.

As for the $1.5 billion gasline project, Pakistan has on many occasions reiterated its resolve to push ahead with it. And Fars News Agency even reported that Pakistani Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Asim Hussain was already in Tehran to prepare the grounds for compiling the text of the contract and has held meetings with several Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.A delegation of Iranian oil industry experts also visited Islamabad early in November to discuss the agreement on the payment of a $250mln loan to Pakistan to fund the project.

In addition to the investment, Iran is also due to build the Pakistani part of the multi-billion-dollar pipeline.The news agency said that a special team had been set up in the Iranian oil ministry to specify the method of investment and credit line for the pipeline on Pakistani soil. According to the project proposal, the pipeline will begin from Iran’s Assalouyeh Energy Zone in the south and stretch over 1,100 km through Iran. In Pakistan, it will pass through Balochistan and Sindh but officials now say the route may be changed if China agrees to the project. – Nation