India and Pakistan on Wednesday finalized a broad framework for negotiations on an ambitious tri- national gas pipeline from Iran.
The two sides also agreed to appoint the financial consultants to help iron out various issues concerning the estimated 7 billion- US dollar gas pipeline project, and ensure that it does not miss the completion deadline of 2010.
A statement issued after the first bilateral joint working group (JWG) meeting between India and Pakistan on the proposed pipeline "conveyed serious commitment to address various issues pertaining to the project so as to maintain the momentum of the dialogue".
Briefing reporters after the conclusion of the two-day JWG meet, Indian Petroleum Secretary S.C Tripathi said that at the next meeting of the JWG in Pakistan in August, India would submit a draft text of a model framework agreement on the pipeline based on various international projects.
The two sides agreed that once the basic issues had been resolved, all three countries, Iran, Pakistan and India would " enter into a framework agreement".
"The tri-lateral framework agreement would be made after consultations with the Iranians," said Tripathi.
Both India and Pakistan have agreed to "continue with the parallel track of bilateral negotiations as also the tri-lateral talks which will eventually converge into tri-lateral negotiations, " said Pakistani Petroleum Secretary Ahmad Waqar.
The trilateral process is expected to begin by the year-end once the bilateral issues between India-Iran, India-Pakistan and Iran-Pakistan have been resolved, officials said.
India will hold the next round of bilateral talks with Iran by June-end, during which it would share with Tehran the outcome of the discussions with Pakistan.
"There were no differences as we feel this project is important for both countries to source sustainable and affordable energy," Waqar said.
Asked if Pakistan would proceed alone with the project if India withdraws at any stage, Waqar expressed the hope that New Delhi would partner the project.
At the same time, Waqar clarified that a study by the Asian Development Bank had established that the project is feasible even if Pakistan pursues it alone. But economies of scale "would come into play if India joins the project" and "it would create linkages and interdependency and improve the peace process in the region," he said.
Both sides are of the view that negotiations to iron out the legal, commercial, financial and technical issues would take a couple of years, with the project is expected to be commissioned by 2009-10, when Pakistan sees the need to import gas to supplement domestic production.