Iran's Vice President Ali Saeedlou has cancelled his visit to Pakistan at the eleventh hour in an apparent indication of unease in bilateral ties, marking the second major diplomatic setback for Islamabad since Russian President Vladimir Putin called off a trip last month.
Saeedlou, who is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's point man for foreign affairs, was due to arrive in Islamabad on Wednesday for a three-day visit to give a push to the long-delayed bilateral gas pipeline project and other ventures.
No reason was officially given for the sudden cancellation of Saeedlou's trip, which came as President Asif Ali Zardari travelled to Qatar for talks on importing liquefied natural gas via India, the Dawn newspaper reported.
In October, Putin cancelled his visit apparently due to lack of progress on major energy and infrastructure projects, including a delay on Islamabad's part in awarding the contract for the Pakistani section of the Iran-Pakistan pipeline to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The Dawn quoted an unnamed Iranian official in Tehran as confirming that Saeedlou's visit was cancelled by the Iranian side.
Though reluctant to disclose specific reasons for the move, the official said Tehran found 'little substance' in the visit which could have been beneficial to either side.
"The vice president can't go to Pakistan for a ceremonial purpose," the official said.
Another unnamed Iranian official said some Pakistani officials posted in Tehran were impeding progress in ties. The daily quoted a source as saying that the cancellation was prompted by some last-minute development because Saeedlou had completed preparations for the visit before leaving on a domestic trip that preceded his journey to Pakistan.
Iran-Pakistan ties had improved significantly, especially after the arrest of Jundullah leader Abdol Malik Rigi two years ago. His arrest removed a major irritant in ties.
The rapprochement that followed was based on the gas pipeline and other projects, including import of electricity by Pakistan, opening of bank branches in both countries and trade.Despite rhetoric that accompanied these projects, there was little progress on the ground, the report said. While progress on commitments made with Iran had been slow, Tehran too has not been too eager to do its part.