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Iran and Pakistan start gas pipeline despite US warnings


Iran and Pakistan have officially begun building a natural gas pipeline meant to help Iran's ailing economy and curb an energy crisis in Pakistan. Both countries made clear that US opposition had no place in the project.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a ceremony with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari near their common border on Monday to celebrate the new pipeline which will pump Iranian natural gas into Pakistan.

The neighboring countries are in need of help amid two separate crises. Pakistan, for its part, is fighting an energy crisis, while Iran must find more sources of income to reverse the damage international sanctions have wrought upon its economy.

"Today is a historic day. The gas pipeline project is the beginning of a great work," said Ahmadinejad before dignitaries attending the event.

The pipeline is to stretch over 780 km (485 miles) of Pakistani territory once completed. Iran has already built most of the pipeline on its own side.

Iran reportedly plans to loan Pakistan $500 million (383.4 million euros), or one-third of the total cost, to help finance the project, which officials hope to have running by the end of 2014.

The US and EU have imposed tougher sanctions on Iran over the past year in an effort to force the country's leadership to stop its uranium enrichment program. Western countries contend that Ahmedinejad intends to develop nuclear weapons, an allegation he has repeatedly denied.

"The pipeline has nothing to do with the nuclear issue. You can't build an atomic bomb with a natural gas pipeline," Ahmadinejad added.

By entering into a business partnership - particularly one that finances the energy sector - with the sanctioned country, Pakistan could also find itself sanctioned by the US. Yet, the gains from the pipeline seemed to outweigh the potential consequences of defying the West.

"We hope our friends understand our energy needs," Zardari's spokesperson, Farhatullah Babar, told the Associated Press.

Zardari's Pakistan People's Party also stands to gain politically ahead of upcoming generally elections. Not only does the party appear to be fighting the country's energy shortage, it is also standing up against the US.

"The completion of the pipeline is in the interests of peace, security and progress of the two countries ... it will also consolidate the economic, political and security ties of the two nations," Pakistan and Iran said in a joint statement.

kms/hc (AFP, AP)

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