India says Iran oil imports not stopped

Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan’s answers in Lok Sabha at variance with stand taken at bilateral meeting at G20 summit

Updated - July 03, 2019 10:51 pm IST

Published - July 03, 2019 10:49 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Gas flares from an oil production platform, as an Iranian flag is seen in the foreground, at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, some 1,250 km south of capital Tehran. File

Gas flares from an oil production platform, as an Iranian flag is seen in the foreground, at the Soroush oil fields in the Persian Gulf, some 1,250 km south of capital Tehran. File

Indicating that there is still some confusion in India’s position on stopping oil imports from Iran in line with sanctions by the United States, the government said on Wednesday that it does not propose to cancel trade, including oil imports, from Iran.

Replying to a direct question on whether the government would “withdraw or discontinue” trade with Iran, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan said, “No.”

To a supplementary question from Congress Member of Parliament Anto Antony in the Lok Sabha on “whether there is any pressure on the Government from United States of America or any other country in this regard”, Mr. Muraleedharan said, “India’s bilateral relations with Iran stand on their own and are not influenced by India’s relations with any third country.”

The MEA’s answer reflects India’s traditional position but is at considerable variance from the stand taken last week at the G20, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly told U.S. President Donald Trump that New Delhi had, in fact, reduced its intake of Iranian oil, in accordance with Washington’s request to “zero out” Iranian oil imports after May 2.

“Prime Minister [Modi] pointed out that although Iran supplies 11% of our energy, India had reduced oil imports from Iran [...] despite the effect it had on the Indian economy, [and] we had been able to sustain this position,” Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said at a press conference after the India-U.S. bilateral summit.

Considerable reduction

When asked about the differing positions, a senior government official said the Ministry of Petroleum could confirm that levels of Iranian oil imports had, in fact dropped, but that the decision to reduce oil imports was based on “commercial considerations and national interest”.

They also distinguished between “stopping” oil imports, and “reducing” them considerably. According to industry sources, Indian companies have placed no new orders for oil from Iran since May 2.

India has yet to formally make its position on Iranian oil imports public, as the government had promised to do when Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had visited Delhi in May this year. In May 2018, when the U.S. first announced its sanctions, the then- External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had said India would never abide by unilateral sanctions from the United States, and only followed “UN sanctions”.

Speaking at an Iranian cultural event on Tuesday, Iran’s Ambassador India Ali Chegeni said he believed that “India will act according to its national interest.” That is acceptable for everybody,” Mr. Chegeni said, adding that Iran is the “only country” that can provide “affordability, accessibility and security of energy for India”, according to news agency PTI.

Iranian officials said, India has “probably” stopped oil imports from Iran for the present, but expressed the hope that this is not a long-term decision. They also indicated that Iran is close to solution to the problem with European Union countries to develop an alternative payment mechanism that would circumvent American sanctions for oil trade.

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