Thu, Apr 25, 2019 - Page 5 News List

India smarting over Washington’s decisions

AFP, WASHINGTON

US President Donald Trump might count Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi among his international allies, but New Delhi is smarting over unexpected US decisions it sees as ignoring the interests of an increasingly close partner.

The Trump administration this week said it would start to sanction countries that do not comply with its orders to stop buying oil from Iran, demanding that eight governments — including India and China — end all imports when six-month waivers run out next week.

The move, which triggered a hike in global oil prices, came just as Modi was campaigning for a new mandate in ongoing, multi-phase elections.

The Iran diktat followed Trump’s announcement last month that India, along with Turkey, would no longer enjoy a preferential trading status for a wide range of manufactured goods.

India’s main opposition Congress party quickly seized on the Iran sanctions to attack Modi.

Congress party spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted that the Indian leader is “sitting as a mute spectator over the country’s oil needs and security.”

An Indian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described New Delhi as “surprised and disappointed” by the decision on Iran, saying the Trump administration had sent a message last month that India’s cuts in imports were sufficient to be granted a fresh waiver.

“We thought that, as a major defense and strategic partner, the United States would take into consideration our concerns,” the official said.

Trump is seeking to eliminate Iran’s top source of revenue in a bid to curb the clerical regime’s regional clout, including its backing of Shiite militants. India is the world’s third-largest oil importer.

The official said that the South Asian nation has cut Iranian oil from 17 to 5 percent of its total crude imports and had also ended oil purchases from Venezuela as Trump puts pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

“We did this not because we agree with the US, but because we are strategic partners,” the official said.

Similarly, the official said that the Trump administration ignored a detailed proposal from New Delhi when it announced it would scrap its designation in the Generalized System of Preferences, which grants favorable access to goods from developing countries.

New Delhi is proposing a 90-day delay in implementation as the government cannot make a counterproposal under laws that forbid policy decisions during elections, the official said.

Another rift could come up as India — a Cold War partner of the Soviet Union that became a major buyer of US defense equipment — finalizes its purchase of Russia’s advanced S-400 missile system.

Indian Minister of Defense Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters that India has been “heard and understood” by the US, which imposed sanctions on China and has warned NATO ally Turkey over buying the S-400.

Few expect India and the US to drift apart significantly, let alone return to their Cold War estrangement, with the major parties in both democracies broadly supporting a strong relationship.

Trump in February backed India’s air incursions into rival Pakistan, home to anti-Indian militants, in response to an attack on Indian forces in divided Kashmir.

Tanvi Madan, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of its India Project, said that this week’s sanctions decision for the US “is about Iran, not about its approach to India.”

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