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Clinton presses India to cut Iranian oil imports

08 may 2012, 12:59
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) talks with India's West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. ©AFP
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) talks with India's West Bengal state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. ©AFP
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged India on Monday to further cut its imports of Iranian oil, saying New Delhi should use its growing clout to help isolate the Islamic republic, AFP reports.

"India... is certainly working towards lowering purchases of Iranian oil. We commend the steps they have taken thus far," she told an audience in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata.

"We hope they will do even more and we think there is an adequate supply (from other exporters) in the market place ... We think this is part of India's role in the international community."

India, which depended on Iran for 12 percent of its imports last year, says it has reduced Iranian imports "substantially" despite initially saying it would not join US and European-led efforts to cut off oil revenues for Tehran.

Clinton, speaking ahead of meetings with India's leaders, said that it was essential that pressure remained on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme and she said a new round of negotiations were the fruits of previous efforts. In New Delhi later Monday, Clinton will sit down with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh aiming to re-spark a bilateral relationship hailed as "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century" by President Barack Obama.

The world's two largest democracies have rapidly expanded ties since overcoming mutual mistrust during the Cold War, but tension over Iran and difficulties in their trade ties have stunted progress.

Relations were reset by former US president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and invigorated by his successor George W. Bush, who signed a landmark nuclear energy deal that was meant to hand business to US companies.

Legislation passed in India since then is seen by Washington as penalising its private nuclear companies, who are unable to take on the liability imposed on them in case of an accident.

State-backed companies from France and Russia have profited at their expense.

"We've made it clear to the government that under the legislation that was passed it would be difficult for US companies to participate," Clinton said. "We are still discussing this and we're hoping there will be a way to work out the remaining kinks in this."

The US is also pushing India to open up more of its economy to foreign investors, particularly retail where US supermarket giant Walmart is keen to tap the potential of the market of 1.2 billion people.

On Iran, a US law will slap sanctions starting June 28 on banks from countries that keep buying oil from the Islamic republic amid charges that the regime is building a bomb under the cover of a nuclear energy drive.

Washington is currently determining whether to exempt India from the sanctions along with European Union nations and Japan.

Clinton's visit is coinciding with the arrival of a large Iranian trade delegation in India, seeking commercial opportunities to mitigate the impact of US sanctions.

Clinton is expected also to stress areas of growing policy convergence with New Delhi.

US officials were pleasantly surprised when India, in response to domestic pressure, backed a US-led UN resolution pushing Sri Lanka on human rights.

India has also been repairing ties with historic enemy Pakistan, removing a headache for the United States whose own relations with Islamabad have been in crisis since US forces killed Osama bin Laden a year ago.

On Sunday, Clinton sought to draw attention to sex trafficking in India, where forced prostitution of women and girls is one of the largest illicit businesses.

Clinton appeared visibly moved as she watched a dance by former victims of sex trafficking, who recounted their plight in a synchronised performance designed as a form of therapy.

The United States last year took India off a watchlist of countries judged as doing too little on trafficking, crediting the government with taking the issue more seriously by setting up special units.

Some US anti-trafficking advocates criticised the move, saying India had not yet shown results and accusing the State Department of caring more about preserving relations with New Delhi.

Clinton also met Monday with West Bengal's chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, to show support for a fellow woman leader.

Banerjee last year ended nearly 35 years of communist rule in the state, where the US consulate lies on a street that local leaders provocatively renamed after Ho Chi Minh.

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