Pakistan, despite U.S. objections, says it will go ahead with the $7.5 billion natural gas pipeline project with Iran, citing national interest.
In a television interview Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said, "We are a sovereign country and we will do whatever is in the interest of Pakistan," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Gilani said Pakistan and Iran have bilateral relations and cooperation in diverse fields including energy, gas pipeline and electricity.
Separately, Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said it was in her country's national interest to pursue energy cooperation agreements and trade with Iran, Dawn newspaper reported.
The announcements come as Iran is under increasing sanctions over its nuclear program, with the United States making efforts to convince buyers of Iranian energy to cut down their imports.
U.S. relations with Pakistan are strained due to a number of issues, including November's NATO airstrike that inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, resulting in Pakistan closing its land route to supply U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Khar said Pakistan is pursuing important projects with Iran, including the gas pipeline, and the projects "will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous consideration," Dawn reported.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in congressional testimony, had warned Pakistan not to proceed with the Iran gas pipeline plans.
Pakistan, whose economy remains shaky, faces a severe energy shortage with massive power cuts, and its officials say the Iranian gas pipeline, set to become operational in 2014, would help ease the energy crisis. Under the plan, Pakistan would import 750 million cubic feet a day that can be increased to 1 billion cubic feet a day.
"I think all our friends are encouraged to understand the real energy crisis that is in Pakistan. We can't afford to be selective of where we receive our energy supply from," Khar said, Dawn reported.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who visited Islamabad last month, had been told of Pakistan's commitment to implement the pipeline project expeditiously, the report said.
Dawn quoted other reports as saying Iran is ready to export about 80,000 of barrels of crude oil a day to Pakistan on a 3-month deferred payment.
U.S. State Department Victoria Nuland, speaking to reporters in Washington, said she didn't think what Clinton said was "appreciably different than what we've been saying for weeks and weeks, publicly, privately, if not months on this subject."
"This is something that we don't think is a good idea, and the secretary made that absolutely clear," Nuland said. "We would also note that Iran is making all kinds of offers to all kinds of countries and they often don't live up to their promises."
Nuland said Washington is aware of Pakistan's energy needs "and we are working with Pakistan on those energy needs, and we would just encourage them to think twice about aligning themselves with an unreliable partner."
Gilani, in his television comments, said Pakistan wants to expand ties with the United States on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, APP reported. He said the two countries have a common goal of success in the war against terrorism.