Pak PM Sharif to visit Iran amid strain in ties
Islamabad: Seeking to improve frayed relations with neighbouring Iran, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will undertake a two-day visit to the oil-rich nation next week.
Accompanied by senior cabinet members including Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir and Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Sharif will hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his cabinet on the visit from May 11.
This will be Sharif`s first visit to Tehran after coming to power last year, which is taking place in the aftermath of a number of developments in the region from border tensions to Islamabad`s reported policy shift towards Syria.
Pakistan is interested in bilateral cooperation in power and energy sector.
The visit would provide an opportunity to discuss the stumbling blocks in the execution of the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
Pakistan has cited US sanctions on Iran for its decision to suspend work on the USD 7.5-billion pipeline, but Iran insists its neighbour is contractually obliged to complete the project.
It will also provide an opportunity for the leaders of the two countries to meet and mend troubled ties following the recent controversy over the kidnapping of Iranian border guards by Pakistani militants.
While the Pakistan Foreign Office remained tight lipped about the visit, official sources confirmed the visit is taking place.
Pakistan is walking a tightrope between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia, a close ally, and Shia-dominated Iran, an important neighbour.
The bone of contention is the ongoing civil war in Syria.
While Iran is supporting the Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad, the Saudis are backing Sunni militant groups trying to overthrow him.
Ever since Saudi Arabia`s Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud visited Pakistan in February, there is intense speculation here that Islamabad has tilted in Riyadh`s favour.
Speculation about a shift from Pakistan`s traditional policy of non-interference in the affairs of Muslim countries emanated from a joint declaration that had called for the "formation of a transitional governing body" in Syria and media reports that Saudi Arabia was in talks with Pakistan to provide anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets to the rebels.
Hence, Sharif`s visit to Iran is seen here as very important.
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