India helping Iran with nuclear energy programme: foreign minister
TEHRAN (AFP) Dec 13, 2003
Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said Saturday his country has been and would continue to help Iran in its controversial bid to generate nuclear energy.

"We have long record on peaceful uses of nuclear energy," Sinha told reporters.

"We have nuclear energy plants in our country. There are other civilian uses of nuclear energy ... most certainly between Iran and India there would be collaboration, there is collaboration," he said.

The foreign minister, in Iran on a trip aimed at enhancing economic and trade relations between the countries, made no further comment on the details or the extent of Indian-Iranian nuclear cooperation.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of using a nuclear energy programme as a cover for a secret bid to produce nuclear arms, a charge the Islamic republic fiercely denies.

Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency condemned Iran for 18 years of covert nuclear activities although a report said there was no clear evidence the country has been developing nuclear arms.

Russia is currently building a nuclear plant at the southern city of Bushehr, and has been under massive US pressure to scrap its assistance.

Sinha said his talks here had covered a range of economic issues, including plans to supply Iranian gas to India via a proposed 3.5 billion-dollar pipeline that crosses Pakistan.

"I am very happy since it was possible for us to take important decisions," he said of the talks.

"We talked about the gas pipe line, and I hope the study on the feasibility of the pipeline will be over soon. We are looking at various options. Only after the studies are over we can make concrete decisions," he added.

During the week, Pakistan's high commissioner to India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, promised to ensure the safety of the proposed pipeline. He said Islamabad was willing to offer its guarantees over safety to help revive a project long-delayed by security fears.

Negotiations on the 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) pipeline began in 1994 but no headway was made due to tensions between Pakistan and India and the project's massive cost.

India has been reluctant to sign up for the project, as it fears Pakistan could cut off fuel supplies to New Delhi if hostilities broke out.

For Iran, which holds the world's largest gas reserves after Russia, the Indian market is as important as the European market, which it hopes to serve one day through a pipeline across Turkey.

India is a large importer of energy products, buying abroad nearly 70 percent of its annual requirements.

Sinha is here to attend the 13th session of the India-Iran commission on bilateral trade and economic issues and hold talks with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and other officials.

Khatami visited India this year as the chief guest of the January 26 Republic Day celebrations. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visited Iran in