Zardari in Tehran

As Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan, arrives in Iran today to sign major deals in the energy sector, many in India wonder why there is so little objection from Washington.

At a time when the Obama Administration and the US Congress are trying hard to squeeze the Iranian oil sector and mount relentless pressure on major Asian economies like China, Japan, Korea and India to cut their energy imports from the Gulf nation, there seems be a lot less stomach to confront Pakistan on the same issue.

To be sure, Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman of the State Department cautioned Pakistan last week against plans to build the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline and letting Iran construct a petroleum refinery with a capacity of 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) at Gwadar.

Pakistani officials have dismissed suggestions that will back off amidst American pressure and cited the country's desperate energy situation and the high importance of partnership with Iran in the hydrocarbon sector.

Pointing to other alternatives before Pakistan, Nuland said the US will "continue our dialogue with Pakistan with regard to Iran". "We've made clear to countries around the world, including Pakistan, that we believe that it's in their interest to avoid activities that could be prohibited by UN sanctions or that could be sanctionable under US law."

US media reports have suggested that Washington has warned, in private, of stringent sanctions against Pakistan if it proceeds further on the projects. Zardari might be betting that given the

American dependence on Pakistan to facilitate the smooth withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, Washington will not make good its threat.

It is also possible that Zardari might temporise on energy cooperation with Iran. While signing agreements in Tehran, he might choose to string out their actual implementation.

Iran has reportedly built the 900 km section of the gas pipeline to Pakistan on its own soil. Zardari's talks in Tehran are likely to focus on the construction of the pipeline on the Pakistani side.

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