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Iranian President in Pakistan to Discuss Security Issues - 2002-12-23

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami began a three day official visit to Pakistan Monday, focusing on regional security issues. The two countries hope to improve relations after years of tension during fighting in Afghanistan.

President Mohammad Khatami is making his first visit to Pakistan meeting with President, General Pervez Musharraf and the newly elected Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali.

Pakistani officials say discussions will focus on bilateral and regional security issues, including the U.S.-led war on terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan, which ousted the Taleban leadership.

Relations hit a low point during Taleban rule in Afghanistan. Islamabad supported the hard line Islamic rulers while Tehran favored its opponents, the Northern Alliance.

Iranian officials say, now, President Khatami's visit will open a new chapter in friendly relations between the two Islamic nations.

Another top issue will be Iran's proposal to develop a $3.5 billion gas pipeline that would run through Pakistan into rival, India.

Both South Asian nations support developing the gas pipeline, but their tense dispute over the territory of Kashmir presents an obstacle.

Improved relations between Pakistan and India will make the gas pipeline project more likely, said Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri in an interview with VOA. "We feel Iran can play an important role in the gas pipeline project between Iran, Pakistan and India," he said, "and I think that the project will also have a great impact not just economically but also in diplomatic terms because it will reduce tensions in the South Asian region."

President Khatami is the first Iranian leader to visit Pakistan since 1992. He is scheduled to visit India next month.