Clinton to ask India to cut oil imports from Iran

KOLKATA, May 6:
Pressing India to further reduce oil imports from sanctions-hit Iran tops the agenda of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who flew into Kolkata today at the start of a three-day visit to India.
The US has been urging India and other countries to slash oil imports from Iran aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran to comply with international demands over its nuclear programme.
India, which imports 80% of its crude oil and relies on Tehran for 12% of those imports, has said it needed to continue to buy Iranian oil to meet its domestic requirements.
Though India has publicly not said it was aiming to cut back on oil imports from Iran, the country’s top oil importers have been pushed to reduce Iranian oil imports by 15-20 per cent.
Crude imports from Iran fell to 18.5 million tons in 2010-11 from 21.2 million tons in 2009-10. Last fiscal (2011-12), Iranian oil imports dropped to less than 16 million tons. This year they may further come down to 14 million tons.
India’s top importers – Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) and Essar Oil will both cut Iranian oil imports this fiscal. MRPL plans to reduce Iranian oil buy to less than 100,000 barrels per day from 142,000 bpd while Essar Oil plans a 15% cut to 85,000 bpd from 100,000 bpd.
The US State Department said in March that 12 countries, including India and China, were at risk of sanctions because of purchases of Iranian oil.
US officials, who declined to be named, told the press travelling with Clinton that Washington’s assessment is that India was working satisfactorily in this direction. “But we really need to receive assurances that they are going to continue to make good progress,” they said.
The US feels that on India’s part the “trend lines are good” and Clinton during talks with Indian leaders is likely to nudge them to consider options for oil import other than Iran.
India has increased oil imports from Saudi Arabia, its largest supplier of crude oil, to meet the shortfall from Iran.
Though admitting that the US and India were not on the same page on Iran, an official source said both sides are expected to discuss the issue and put forth each other’s positions during parleys in Delhi.
The US, which has imposed sanctions against Tehran, has been asking India to restrict its import of crude oil from Iran but New Delhi has been maintaining that it only accepts sanctions by the United Nations and not unilateral sanctions.
Clinton, who arrived here after visits to China and Bangladesh, will meet West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who had effectively stalled UPA Government’s efforts last year for FDI in retail.
Clinton, who had earlier been to the city after Mother Teresa’s death in 1997 as the First Lady of the United States of America, was received by senior State Government officials and US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell.
She is scheduled to attend a programme at the Indian Council for Cultural Relations on issues relating to women. She would later visit the Victoria Memorial.
She would leave for Delhi after meeting the Chief Minister at the State secretariat, Writers Buildings, tomorrow.
Civil nuclear cooperation, regional security and Iran are among the key issues that Clinton is expected to discuss with External Affairs Minister S M Krishna during their meeting in Delhi on Tuesday.
During her stay in the national capital, she is expected to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh apart from holding talks with Krishna, during which they will also review progress made in their countries’ strategic partnership ahead of the India-US strategic dialogue to be held in Washington on June 13.
The meeting between Clinton and Indian leaders gains significance as it comes immediately after her high-level talks in China and ahead of the crucial NATO summit in Chicago, where some important decisions are expected to be made on Afghanistan.
“The entire gamut of bilateral relationship apart from all those issues which impinge on the Indo-US partnership will be discussed,” the source said.
New Delhi’s controversial proposals on retroactive taxation may also be raised by the US side.
Both sides will discuss civil nuclear cooperation and regional security situation with New Delhi expected to brief the US Secretary on its proposed regional investors’ meet here to discuss economic development of Afghanistan, sources said. (PTI)

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