US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged energy-starved India yesterday to reduce its Iranian oil imports to keep up pressure on the Islamic republic to come clean about its nuclear program.
Clinton told a town hall meeting in the eastern city of Kolkata that there was an adequate supply in the market for India to find alternative sources of oil.
Clinton said India had taken some steps to reduce its imports from Iran, but added that the US wanted to see more.
“If there weren’t an adequate supply ... we would understand, but we believe that there is adequate supply,” she said.
India could face US sanctions by the end of next month if US President Barack Obama’s administration determines it has not made significant cuts in imports under a law aimed at squeezing Iran’s petroleum industry to press the country to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.
India sources about 9 percent of its oil imports from Iran, though officials say it has reduced dependency on Iranian oil in recent months.
“We appreciate what has been done and, of course, we want to keep the pressure on Iran,” Clinton said.
However, India remains dependent on the imports, and Iran is its second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. With international sanctions making it difficult to find banks willing to handle Iranian oil payments, India and Iran reached an agreement earlier this year that said India could make about 45 percent of purchases in rupees. Iran would then use the Indian currency to buy goods from India.
Clinton said the US remained focused on putting global pressure on Iran.
“We believe, at this moment in time, the principle threat is a nuclear-armed Iran,” she said. “We need India to be part of the international effort.”
Clinton was also to meet yesterday with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a key partner of India’s ruling coalition who has stymied government efforts to lift the restrictions on foreign-owned investments in the country.
Clinton was expected to talk with Banerjee about allowing multi-brand retailers such as Wal-Mart to enter the market.
Last year, India’s Cabinet had to rescind a decision to open up its market to major foreign retailers after Banerjee balked at the move, saying it would crush domestic retailers.
“I will certainly raise the United States’ desire to try to open the market to multibrand retailers,” Clinton told the audience at the town hall.
“I think there are a lot of benefits that may not be immediately perceived,” she said.
Clinton was to head to New Delhi later yesterday, where she was expected to press India to push ahead with its stalled economic reform program even though the Indian prime minister’s chief economic adviser said last month that no new reforms were likely before the next elections in 2014.