As the United States seeks to tighten the financial noose around Iran, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned that Pakistan could face American sanctions if it continues with its proposed pipeline project with Tehran -- foreshadowing what could become another fray in an already tense relationship with a difficult ally.
With roughly $1 billion allocated in the State Department’s budget request for fiscal 2013 to help Pakistan address its energy challenges, Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., asked Clinton about the U.S. response if the Pakistan-Iran pipeline project proceeds. Clinton said sanctions could be triggered if the pipeline is constructed either as an Iranian project or a joint project with Islamabad.
“[This] would be particularly damaging to Pakistan because their economy is already quite shaky,” Clinton told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. “This additional pressure that the United States would be compelled to apply would further undermine their economic status.”
Alongside Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said earlier this month that Islamabad would continue with the project and that its relations with Tehran would not "be undermined by international pressure of any kind,” according to the Associated Press. The news comes at a time when Washington is working aggressively to derail Tehran's nuclear program through tough new measures penalizing foreign financial institutions doing business with the Central Bank of Iran.
“As we are ratcheting up pressure on Iran, it seems somewhat inexplicable that Pakistan would be trying to negotiate a pipeline,” Clinton told the panel.
Pakistan’s relationship with Washington been strained in recent months. After Islamabad expelled hundreds of American trainers from the country in the fallout after the covert U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden within its borders, tensions escalated further last fall when errant NATO strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
The U.S. has been working with Pakistan for three years to help upgrade its existing energy infrastructure and is encouraging Pakistan to seek alternatives to the pipeline — namely one with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and India.
“We think that that is a better alternative, both in terms of predictability and to avoid doing business with Iran,” Clinton said.