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Pakistan, Iran leaders inaugurate pipeline project

GABD, Iran — The leaders of Pakistan and Iran on Monday pushed ahead with a pipeline to bring natural gas from Iran despite American opposition, and the Iranian president declared the West has no right to block the project.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke during a ceremony alongside his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, in Iran near the Pakistani border. The meeting intended to mark the beginning of construction of the Pakistani side of the pipeline.

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The pipeline is designed to help Pakistan overcome its mushrooming energy needs at a time when the country is facing increased blackouts and energy shortages. But there are serious doubts about how Pakistan could finance the $1.5 billion needed to construct the pipeline and whether it could go through with the project without facing US sanctions, which Washington has put in place to pressure Iran over its nuclear program.

‘‘Today is a historic day. The gas pipeline project is the beginning of a great work,’’ said Ahmadinejad, speaking to dignitaries from both countries. ‘‘The Westerners have no right to make any obstacles in the way of the project.’’

In a separate development Monday, a roadside bomb killed three Pakistani soldiers in a northwestern tribal area near the Afghan border.

Monday’s pipeline ceremony comes just days before the Pakistani government’s term is set to expire and could be designed to win votes by making the ruling Pakistan People’s Party look like it is addressing the energy crisis.

It also allows the government to tweak the United States, which is widely unpopular in Pakistan despite billions of dollars in aid.

The United States has promoted an alternative pipeline that runs from the gas fields of Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and then to India.

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