India decision on Iran oil, slap on US face: Burns

Washington: India`s decision to continue importing Iranian oil is a slap on the face of the United States, which is galvanising the international community to isolate Tehran, according to a former US diplomat who was Bush Administration`s pointman on Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.

"This is bitterly disappointing news for those of us who have championed a close relationship with India. And, it represents a real setback in the attempt by the last three American Presidents to establish a close and strategic partnership with successive Indian governments," former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns wrote in an op-ed in current-affairs magazine `The Diplomat` today.

"India`s decision to walk out of step with the international community on Iran isn`t just a slap in the face for the US, it raises questions about its ability to lead," said Burns. India, which relies on Iran for 12 per cent of its oil imports, has refused to scale it down.

Only recently, Burns had written an op-ed in The Boston Globe arguing that the US should commit to an ambitious, long-term strategic partnership with India. "I remain convinced of its value to both countries and to the new global balance of power being created in this century," he wrote.

"With its unhelpfulness on Iran and stonewalling on implementation of the landmark US-India Civil Nuclear Agreement, however, the Indian government is now actively impeding the construction of the strategic relationship it says it wants with the United States," Burns said.

Presidents Barack Obama and George W Bush have met India more than halfway in offering concrete and highly visible commitments on issues India cares about, he said, adding unfortunately India has made no corresponding gesture in return for the big vision that Obama and Bush have offered.

"It`s time that India speaks much more clearly about the priority it places on its future with the United States. Most importantly, India must begin to provide the kind of visible leadership on difficult issues such as Iran that its many friends in the United States and around the world had expected to see by now," Burns wrote.

"The Indian government`s ill-advised statement last week that it will continue to purchase oil from Iran is a major setback for the US attempt to isolate the Iranian government over the nuclear issue," he said as he took head on the Indian defence that India relies on Iran for 12 per cent of its oil imports and can`t afford to break those trade ties.

"India has had years to adjust and make alternative arrangements. Ironically, the United States has had considerable success on the sanctions front in recent months. The EU has decided to implement an oil embargo on Iran, the US is introducing Central Bank sanctions and even the East Asian countries, such as China, have imported less Iranian oil in recent months. That makes India`s recent pronouncements seem extremely out of step and out of touch with the new global determination to isolate and pressure Iran to negotiate in order to avoid a catastrophic war," Burns said.