U.S. unimpressed with India’s efforts to cut Iran oil buys: envoy

Frank Jack Daniel – Reuters May 15, 2012

The United States is not impressed with India’s efforts to cut its oil imports from Iran, a top U.S. diplomat said on Tuesday, throwing into doubt whether New Delhi would be given a waiver from U.S. financial sanctions before a June deadline.

As a major buyer of Iranian crude, India is crucial to U.S. efforts to squeeze Iran’s economy until it agrees to curb its nuclear program, which the United States and other Western nations suspect is a cover to build atomic weapons.

The issue has become an irritant in ties between India and the United States.

Carlos Pascual, the U.S. special envoy who has been negotiating with Iranian oil importers to cut their imports, met Indian foreign ministry officials on Tuesday.

“We are not too impressed today,” Pascual said when asked by Reuters how likely India was to get a waiver. Pascual was speaking before meeting the foreign ministry officials.

“We’re really going to talk about the broad developments of global energy. How we work together on these issues. It’s a great relationship,” he said.

The United States in March granted exemptions to Japan and 10 European Union nations. India and China, Iran’s biggest crude importer, remain at risk.

Washington has held up Japan as an example, saying it had cut imports despite having suffered an earthquake and tsunami that crippled its Fukushima nuclear reactor.

Japan cut volumes by almost 80 percent in April compared with the first two months of 2012. The cuts, amounting to 250,000 barrels per day, are the steepest yet by the four Asian nations that buy most of Iran’s 2.2 million bpd of exports.

India’s crude oil imports from Iran declined by about 34 percent in April compared with March, tanker discharge data showed last week.

Washington has not stated specifically what cuts it expects from each country, only that they must be substantial.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaned on India last week to cut its imports of Iranian oil further, and said Washington may not make a decision on whether to exempt New Delhi from financial sanctions for another two months.

Clinton, who was on a visit to India, said the United States was encouraged by the steps its ally had taken to reduce its reliance on Iranian oil, but that “even more” was needed.

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; editing by Malini Menon and Miral Fahmy)

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