US-India ties hit rough patch over Iran: Report

Published: April 10, 2012
Washington to weigh sanctions on India unless New Delhi significantly cuts oil imports from Iran. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

Washington to weigh sanctions on India unless New Delhi significantly cuts oil imports from Iran. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

WASHINGTON: Less than a year ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited India and declared that the relationship between the world’s two largest democracies would shape the 21st century.

India and the United States are now navigating some of the rockiest waters since they began to build closer ties in the late 1990s, with Washington weighing sanctions unless New Delhi significantly cuts oil imports from Iran.

No one expects a return to strained ties of the sort seen during the Cold War, when India tilted toward the Soviet Union. But the mood is palpably different from 2008 when the United States ended a three-decade ban on nuclear trade with India.

“You can’t expect every few months or years that there’s going to be another giant announcement. This is the slog — this is the long-term commitment,” said Diane Farrell, executive vice president of the US-India Business Council.

Trade between the two countries has soared over the past decade but also hit high-profile disputes. The nuclear deal, meant to symbolize the new partnership, has been at a standstill over an Indian law on disaster liability.

India in December backtracked on a plan pushed by the United States to allow foreign supermarkets such as Wal-Mart into the country after an uproar by the ubiquitous mom-and-pop stores in the world’s second most populous nation.

But few issues have caused as much friction as Iran.

A new US law, seeking to pressure Iran to end a nuclear program seen by Israel as a major threat, will slap sanctions starting on June 28 on banks from countries that do not cut oil imports from the Islamic republic.

In public, US officials have played down differences and echoed Clinton’s July 2011 speech in Chennai where she urged a greater global leadership role for India.

State Department number three Wendy Sherman, on a visit last week to New Delhi, said the United States will “never seek to undermine India’s energy security” but called for pressure on Iran “in whatever ways are appropriate for India.”

India and China, whose emerging economies are heavily reliant on energy imports, have both opposed US sanctions on Iran. But China, and to some extent India, are both reported to be quietly diversifying their oil sources.

The United States has already exempted European Union members and Japan from the sanctions after crediting their efforts to cut down imports.

In a speech last month in Washington, Indian Ambassador Nirupama Rao said that New Delhi’s foremost foreign policy task was to promote the transformation of its economy and said that its share of oil imports from Iran was declining.

India historically has strong relations with Iran and relies on Tehran to ship assistance to Afghanistan, where New Delhi has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of US-led efforts to fight the Taliban.

The main concern for policymakers in New Delhi is not Iran but neighboring Pakistan — which has a longstanding, if uneasy, partnership with the United States and where a number of anti-Indian militants operate openly.

Walter Lohman, director of the Asian studies center at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that Japan and other US allies have taken actions such as sending troops to Iraq out of consideration for ties to Washington.

But Lohman said the United States had nothing to show for its efforts on India and called it “crazy” to support a permanent Indian seat on the UN Security Council — as President Barack Obama pledged on a 2010 visit to New Delhi.

“If our partnership can’t support an effort to bring maximum pressure to bear on Iran over its nuclear program, I don’t see what it can possibly support,” Lohman said.

But Daniel Twining, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said the US relationship with India was based on a longer-term view that a stronger, more prosperous “giant democracy” was in the world’s interest.

Twining said that the United States should not be surprised to deal with a nation that “believes its own virtues are supreme and thinks it should pursue its own interests to the detriment of whatever else anyone might say.”

“Most countries in the world are used to dealing with a country like this — it’s just that they’re dealing with us,” he said.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • j. von hettlingen
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:56PM

    As a rising superpower India is wary of being told by the U.S. on how to shape its policies, despite their cordial relations and close political ties. India is also a huge consumer of oil, therefore price and volume matter. It has been able to benefit from good business with Iran due to their historically good relations. Hence it sees no reaso to be at Washington’s bidding.


  • BlackJack
    Apr 10, 2012 - 8:10PM

    An unnecessarily alarmist title to a pointless article; the US is well aware that India cannot stop importing Iranian oil – and has already reduced the percentage of dependence significantly. All they want is to see that everyone is going through the motions – everyone knows that tomorrow Iran may no longer be a threat, but India will continue to be an opportunity.


  • Noor
    Apr 10, 2012 - 8:26PM

    Pathetically poor article lack in a meanigful insights – a complete waste of time.


  • Anuj
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:04PM

    Sanctions on India……ROFL :D :D ….Even US knows very well that its not gonna work…..


  • gp65
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:47PM

    @j. von hettlingen: “As a rising superpower India is wary of being told by the U.S. on how to shape its policies, despite their cordial relations and close political ties. “

    Even when India was poor as a church mouse (many Indians are still poor), it id not compromise its sovereignty. It followed a strictly non-aligned policy and continues to do so.An independent foreign policy is a matter of principle for India and not an assertion of its emerging superpower status.

    Even when people dislike or disagree with India’s strength, they respect the fact that it does not say one thing and do another.


  • let there be peace
    Apr 10, 2012 - 11:05PM

    many countries like India depend on oil from Iran. U.S. can afford playing santion games but economies of other countries will suffer. US should stop playing games only in her interest and offer concrete plan for attack on Iran and must guarantee India and Russia a large share in Iran’s oil and gas after regime change in Iran.


  • Cautious
    Apr 10, 2012 - 11:15PM

    The USA had made it clear that it is willing to go to war to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons — if that happens then whatever oil Iran pumps is going to stop. China clearly understands the seriousness of this issue and has reduced it’s oil imports from Iran by over 40% – if India doesn’t follow suit you can expect the USA to remind India that it’s economic growth is due in large part to the USA exporting jobs – something that can be readily reversed.


  • Truth
    Apr 11, 2012 - 2:19AM

    India, Iran, China are over 3000 years old. America is under 300 years old.. Um yeah something wrong here


  • harish
    Apr 11, 2012 - 3:03AM

    @ cautious:
    “economic growth is due in large part to the USA exporting jobs – something that can be readily reversed”
    you dont really understand economics do you?


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