Pakistan's Foreign Minister Hina Rabani Khar announces the construction of a natural gas pipeline to Iran on March 1, 2012.

Story highlights

Pakistan needs the pipeline to ease its natural gas shortage

Washington threatened sanctions over the pipeline construction

The United States and Pakistan already have a turbulent relationship

Islamabad, Pakistan CNN  — 

Pakistan announced plans Thursday to proceed with the construction of a natural gas pipeline to Iran in an apparent rebuff to warnings from Washington to call off the project.

“All of these projects are in Pakistan’s national interest and will be pursued and completed irrespective of any extraneous considerations,” Foreign Minister Hina Rabani Khar told reporters at a news conference in Islamabad.

“As far as our bilateral relations and cooperation is concerned, we do not make it contingent on views and policies of any third country,” she added.

Khar’s statements came 24 hours after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a congressional subcommittee that Pakistan risked facing economic sanctions if it continued its plans for the pipeline.

Clinton’s warning to Islamabad was part of Washington’s increasingly aggressive efforts to force Iran to end its nuclear program by making it difficult for Tehran to profit from exporting crude oil and natural gas, its main sources of income.

The U.S. campaign against Iran’s nuclear program could further complicate Washington’s already turbulent relations with Islamabad.

Iran and the United States are both allies of Pakistan, but Washington and Tehran have been bitter adversaries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The United States, Israel and many other countries fear Iran is using what it says is its civilian nuclear program as a cover to build nuclear bombs. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes and functions under the guidelines and oversight of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

Pakistan could find itself entangled in the face-off between the United States and Iran if it continues with plans to build the pipeline.

Tens of millions of Pakistanis live without heat and cooking fuel every day because of a natural gas shortage. Islamabad has hailed the Iran pipeline as critical step in reducing its shortfall.

For now, Pakistan doesn’t appear swayed by U.S. threats to scrap the project.

It’s not clear when and to what extent the Washington would sanction Islamabad if construction begins on the pipeline and how Pakistan would respond.

“We’ll cross the bridge when it comes,” Khar said.