CHAH BAHAR (Iran)  – The presidents of Pakistan and Iran inaugurated the construction of a much-delayed section of a $7.5 billion gas pipeline linking the two neighbours Monday, defying the threat of US sanctions.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched the project with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at a ceremony on the border, hailing a blow to US-led sanctions targeting his country’s oil and gas sector.

The two leaders unveiled a plaque before shaking hands and offering prayers for the successful conclusion of the project, which involves the laying of a 780 kilometre section of the pipeline on the Pakistani side, expected to cost some $1.5 billion.

“The completion of the pipeline is in the interests of peace, security and progress of the two countries... It will also consolidate the economic, political and security ties of the two nations,” they said in a joint statement.

Ahmadinejad hailed that work on the new section of pipeline was going ahead despite US sanctions against Iran’s oil and gas sector imposed over its controversial nuclear programme.

“This gas pipeline is a show of resistance against domination,” Ahmadinejad said.

“There are some nations who are against the progress of people, and so they are using the nuclear issue as a pretext to hinder the progress of the nations,” he said. “This pipeline has nothing to do with the nuclear issue, you cannot build a nuclear bomb with natural gas,” he said, speaking alongside Zardari in comments broadcast live on state television.

“This pipeline is peacemaker, so if those countries are not cooperating, then they should not get in the way.”

Condoling with Pakistani nation and government over the recent terror attacks against Shia, Ahmadinejad warned against enemy’s divisive plots targeting Muslim Ummah.

The message stressed that Muslims should be united against their joint enemies.

“International communities and in particular the Pakistan government should prevent repetition of such crimes against innocent civilians.”

Iran’s presidency website quoted President Asif Ali Zardari as praising the ‘historical’ event and saying it would help develop Pakistan. He added that through the pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran were consolidating their ties.

The ceremony was attended by a large number of foreign dignitaries, ministers, members of parliament and political leaders from both the countries. Former prime minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani and the United Arab Emirates Energy Minister Mohammad Bin Dha’en Al Hameli also attended the event.

Federal ministers, including Qamar Zaman Kaira, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Arbab Alamgir, Mehreen Anwar Raja and Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, Advisor on Petroleum Resources Dr Asim Hussain and Deputy Speaker National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi were present. Iranian Minister of Oil Rostam Qasemi and Minister of Industry, Mine and Trade Mehdi Ghazanfari were also present.

Earlier, President Zardari on his arrival at the Chabahar airport in southeastern province of Sistan, was warmly welcomed by the Iranian President.

During a brief meeting prior to the inaugural ceremony of the pipeline, President Zardari and his Iranian counterpart expressed the hope that the project would promote peace, security and progress in both the countries and the region. The two leaders said the project would help enhance economic, political and security ties between Tehran and Islamabad.

Tehran-based Tadbir Energy Development Group will undertake all engineering procurement and construction work for the first segment of the project, which starts from the Iran-Pakistan border.