While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was warning in his Tuesday address to Congress that Iran’s neighbors feared the potential nuclear agreement now being negotiated by the Obama administration and its international partners, at least one of those neighbors said it is rooting strongly that a deal can be struck.
A deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programs and ease economic sanctions on Tehran would be seen as “extremely positive” by Pakistan and many other countries in the region, Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Jalil Abbas Jilani told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor just an hour before the Israeli leader began speaking on Capitol Hill.
Mr. Jilani said a number of bilateral projects with Iran, including a major natural gas pipeline, have had to be put on hold because of the international sanctions targeting Tehran, and could be quickly revived if the nuclear deal eases the restrictions on doing business with Tehran.
“Our region has seen a lot of tension in the last several years,” Mr. Jilani said, noting that Pakistan shares a nearly 600-mile border with Iran. “Nobody can afford many more new tensions.”
The ambassador said there were “tremendous opportunities for economic cooperation” between Iran and Pakistan, and that ending Iran’s diplomatic isolation would also “fit well with regional connectivity” linking South Asia to markets in the Middle East.
Iran and Pakistan had originally hoped to inaugurate the 1,700-mile pipeline to transport Iranian natural gas by the end of 2014, but the sanctions and pressure by the Obama administration have repeatedly led Islamabad to delay. India had originally expressed interest in receiving gas from the pipeline but dropped out in 2009 in the face of opposition from Washington.
Pakistani Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan told Pakistani newspapers earlier this week that Pakistan has not abandoned the pipeline, but was waiting for the Iranian sanctions to be lifted before going forward.
On other issues, the ambassador:
• Said Pakistan would welcome a slowing of President Obama’s announced withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan in light of the increased militant activity along the border as international forces have been reduced in eastern Afghanistan. Mr. Jilani said Pakistan’s military has enjoyed marked success in a “surge” of forces to deal with militants in the restive North Waziristan area, adding that relations with Kabul have improved with the replacement of Hamid Karzai by new President Ashraf Ghani last year.
Mr. Ghani is due in Washington later this month, with the security situation and the pace of the U.S. drawdown expected prime topics of conversation.
• Expressed support for President Obama’s refusal to characterize the militant movements sweeping the Middle East and Asia as “Islamic terrorism,” saying it would be “unfair and counterproductive” to tar an entire religious faith for the actions of a very few. Domestic critics say Mr. Obama’s failure to acknowledge the Islamic basis of many of the most militant terror groups. Following the White House summit on countering extremist violence last month, Mr. Jilani said Pakistan was considering hosting a regional conference to discuss the best ways to counter extremist groups.