ASALOUYEH, Iran, July 25 (UPI) -- Iran, Iraq and Syria say they're set to sign an official contract to construct a natural gas pipeline connecting Iran's South Pars field to European customers.
Iran's state-run Press TV announced that a deal between Iran's interim Oil Minister Mohammad Aliabadi and his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts -- the biggest of its in the kind in the Middle East -- would be signed at Asalouyeh, Iran.
It was described as the next step in a process began three years ago to establish a 56-inch "Islamic Pipeline" to compete for European customers with the proposed Nabucco pipeline, which is to run from Azerbaijan's Caspian Sea gas fields through Turkey to Austria.
The proposed 3,480-mile Islamic Pipeline would originate in the South Pars gas fields, which Iran has been struggling for years to develop as a competitive alternative to Russian natural gas. The Iranian fields are estimated to contain eight percent of the world's natural gas reserves.
The contract signing was arranged during a round of May talks in Baghdad among Iran, Iraq and Syria, attended by Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Rahimi, where the pipeline's route, price, transit fee and foreign financing were discussed.
Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Oji said then the construction of the pipeline would cost up to $6 billion and that it would ultimately have the capacity to pump 3.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Oji told the official Mehr News Agency it had been agreed that the corridor route would "pass through Iran, Iraq, Syria, the southern Lebanon territories and also through the Mediterranean basin," with a refinery and infrastructure to be built in Damascus.
Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would be able to tap into the Islamic Pipeline for its own natural gas needs, Iran says.
Baghdad has said it wants up to 530 million cubic feet per day for its own needs and Syria is looking for up to 706 million cubic feet and Lebanon up to 247 million cubic feet, leaving 2.4 billion cubic feet for possible export.
Iran said Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem Luaiby as well as Syrian Minister of Oil and Mineral Resources Sufian Allaw were to be present Monday in Asalouyeh to sign the agreement.
Oji has said several European investors have expressed an interest in backing the project, which some analysts have predicted by 2030 could become the biggest rival to the Nabucco natural gas pipeline project.
Under the present plans, one part of the Islamic Pipeline's routes to the European market would be through an 807-mile pipeline being constructed in Iran by the National Iranian Gas Company, Mehr reported.
The first and second phases of this new pipeline, which connect Asalouyeh to Ahvaz, have been completed while contracts for the remaining two sections, valued at $1.3 billion, have reportedly been signed.
Iran said the pipeline's third portion -- a 373-mile stretch from Ahvaz to Dehkalan -- is to be completed within 24 months.