US Links Help On Masood Azhar To Iran Oil Imports

New Delhi: Washington has conveyed to New Delhi that it expects India to reciprocate on President Trumps commitment to disrupt Iranian oil exports following the waiver to buy Iranian oil ends on May 1 as it has stood by India on combating terrorism after the Pulwama attack, a New Delhi newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Moving to squeeze Iran’s top export, the White House Monday said it will no longer grant sanctions exemption to Iran’s oil customers. The waiver for India runs out on May 1, and from May 2, India cannot import oil from Iran, or its state-owned or private entities will face US sanctions.

“Hectic consultations are underway between India and US officials, with a top US State Department official, Alice Wells, visiting India currently to discuss the issue with Indian interlocutors. The US has told Indian officials that the policy is designed to put “maximum pressure” on Iran, and is not targeted against India,” The Indian Express reported.

The US has been leading the effort at the United Nations Security Council to list Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar a “global terrorist”, and is working with French and British interlocutors in the face of opposition from Beijing. US officials also did the heavy-lifting to get Beijing on board when the UNSC issued a condemnation statement after the February 14 Pulwama attack.

Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had visited Washington DC on March 11, after the February 26 Balakot air strike and when the UNSC deadline for Azhar’s listing was due on March 13 amid the hectic diplomatic offensive.

The US policy towards Iran was announced in May last year, and all countries were given six months until November 2018 to bring down oil imports to zero. In November, Washington gave a six-month waiver to eight countries, including India.

India, the world’s third-biggest oil consumer, meets more than 80% of its crude oil requirements and around 40% of its natural gas needs through imports. Domestic oil and natural gas production has been declining for the last few years, even as the energy needs of the economy have grown.

India is Iran’s top oil buyer after China. In 2018-19, it imported 23.5 million tonnes from Iran; in the previous year, almost 10% of its total 220.4 million tonnes of crude imports was from Iran.

In 2018-19 (first 11 months), of India’s total $128.7 billion import of Petroleum, Oil & Lubricants (POL), Iran accounted for 9%, according to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) data compiled by rating agency CARE.

Meanwhile Indian opposition has asked government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stand up to the US pressure. 

The Congress said the US decision was a “direct assault and attack on India’s political and economic sovereignty”, adding that it was a failure of Modi’s “personalised diplomacy”.

“The American decision to impose sanctions from May 1 on countries that buy oil from Iran or have commercial ties with Iran with is a direct assault and attack on India’s political and economic sovereignty. It is a failure of Modi’s diplomacy that he could not convince the man whom he has hugged on more than one occasion,” Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said.

“It is not only a failure of the Modi government, it is a failure of Modi personally. Because he has personalised diplomacy like at no other point of time and therefore the American decision is an attack on India’s political and economic sovereignty and Modi must bear the full responsibility for this. He talks about every subject under the sun. Why is he silent on this” Why is not standing up” If you are a true nationalist…then say it is not possible for us to accept. We will not tolerate this and we will purchase oil from where our government decides,” Ramesh said.

The Congress leader said international oil prices are bound to increase because of the US move, which will have implications on domestic price of petrol, diesel and cooking gas. “So what is required today is an active diplomatic offensive on the part of the Indian government to use all the economic and diplomatic weapons it has to convince the Americans…” he said.

Meanwhile, the CPI(M) said “any step to stop importing oil from Iran will harm India’s energy security and national interests”.

“Earlier, the External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, had stated that India will not adhere to any sanctions except those adopted by the United Nations. Since UN has unilaterally imposed these illegal sanctions, the BJP led government must reject these sanctions and continue to buy oil from Iran which is in the country’s interests,” the party said.

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