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Rediff.com  » News » Iran sanctions: US goes 'blunt and intense' to push India

Iran sanctions: US goes 'blunt and intense' to push India

Last updated on: February 29, 2012 10:09 IST

US goes 'blunt and intense' to push India

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United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that India, along with countries like China and Turkey, is taking steps to reduce its dependency on Iranian oil.

These steps, much stronger than acknowledged publicly, comes in the wake of the US urging the international community to isolate Iran with tough sanctions and punish Teheran for its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said, "We have had very intense and very blunt conversations with each of those countries, and I think that there are a number of steps that we are pointing out to them that we believe they can and should make."

She was responding to a question by Senator Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, as to what steps countries like India, China and Turkey are taking to help the US-led sanctions against Iran.

In this regard, she noted, "I also can tell you that in a number of cases, both on their government side and on their business side, they are taking actions that go further and deeper than perhaps their public statements might lead you to believe."

"And we are going to continue to keep an absolute foot on the pedal in terms of our accelerated, aggressive outreach to them," she added.

Reportage: Aziz Haniffa

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Image: Hillary Clinton


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'Iran and India have a long tradition of trade'

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Clinton explained that these countries "are looking for ways to make up the lost revenues, the lost crude oil. That's a difficulty for a lot of these countries, not just the ones you mentioned. So we have had to put together an entire team to try to assist them in thinking through ways of doing that."

On February 7, when US Ambassador-designate to India Nancy Powell appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee, the US concern on this exacerbating confrontation with Iran and India's perceived reticence to join in the US-led paranoia against Teheran was on full display.

The ranking Republican on the Committee, Senator Richard Lugar, fired the first salvo when he told Powell that "in recent days, press reports indicate that India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation has come under pressure to finalise a service contract for natural gas production with Iran," and asked her for her "thoughts on an Indian company's involvement in Iran's energy sector, particularly something of this significance?"
 
Powell replied, "Iran and India have a long tradition of trade across energy and other fields. It is one that is clearly a part of our sanctions regime, that we are hoping to see significantly reduced."
 
She then pointed out that a day earlier, in a speech to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, visiting Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had "indicated the current efforts to diversify India's sources of oil and petroleum and a reduction in their use of Iranian oil to 10 per cent or less."

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Image: A file photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Reuters

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'I will be spending a great deal of time on it'

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"And I think these are positive developments. I think our own efforts to support India in looking at other sources of energy will be a contributor to this," she said.

Powell said that she would "certainly -- if confirmed, I know that this is going to be one of the issues that I will be spending a great deal of time on in working with the Iranian sanctions legislation with our own policies and with the Indians to work with them."

Menendez, then joined in, echoing Lugar's concern regarding India's stand to eschew isolating Iran, and said, "I am a strong believer that this relationship between the United States and India is a critical one, but I am sure, as you are aware, in December, I along with other colleagues sponsored legislation in the Congress by amendment that the president -- the Senate passed unanimously and the president signed into law with reference to comprehensive sanctions on the financial institutions of the Central Bank of Iran."

He said, while he been encouraged by the efforts of Japan, the efforts of South Korea and others to look for ways to come into compliance with the law and have come to it even as they face challenges, India had not done so.

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Image: US President Barack Obama
Photographs: Reuters

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'This is going to be a very important topic'

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Menendez pointed out that "the Indian government, which is one of Iran's largest crude customers, seems to be rebuking the sanctions and looking for workarounds, including considering payments in gold and transactions that detour around the central bank of Iran which, at the end of the day, still is helping the Iranian government have the resources to fuel their nuclear ambitions."

He argued that "for our sanctions to be effective, it is really crucial that all nations, particularly democratic nations like India, work together to confront Iran and insist that it terminate its effort to achieve nuclear weapons capability."

Menendez then got a commitment from Powell that she will carry "the message to New Delhi that this is a policy priority for the United States and that we will not hesitate, as appropriate, to pursue the law as it exists."

"Senator, certainly, if confirmed, I understand and appreciate that this is going to be a very important topic and one of those that I will be dealing with very seriously and very early in my tenure," Powell promised.

Menendez said, "This is incredibly important to us. If countries like India are basically going to pay in gold or find other ways to circumvent the sanctions, then while I appreciate what you said about India sharing our goals, well, you could share our goals, but you could ultimately continue to facilitate the resources that are necessary for Iran to achieve its nuclear power."

"And so we need more than their goodwill or sharing our goals. We need their actions to join us and the rest of the international community in that regard," he said.


Image: Nancy Powell
Photographs: Reuters

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