US to send expert to India to cut Iran oil imports

Washington: The US will send its top energy expert to India next week to help the country reduce dependence on Iranian oil, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said as she lauded the steps taken by New Delhi on the issue.

Carlos Pascual, the State Department`s Special Envoy and Coordinator for International Energy Affairs, will be in India next week with a team of experts for talks with Indian officials on the Iranian issue. "We are working with them to help them in any way that we can offer technical assistance, and next week my energy coordinator, Ambassador Carlos Pascual, will be in India with a team of experts," Clinton was quoted as saying by CNN.

Clinton`s comments came after her visit to India during which she asked New Delhi to restrict its trade and energy ties with Tehran to meet international demands on its disputed nuclear programme. After talks Clinton, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had said, "I conveyed our vital stakes in peace and stability in the Persian Gulf and wider West Asian region, given the six million Indians who live there and the region?s importance to our economy."

Clinton appreciated the steps being taken by India to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil while acknowledging that it is "hard" for New Delhi to do so. "Well, India has reduced its dependence on Iranian oil. I know their refineries have stopped asking for orders to purchase Iranian oil. So they certainly have taken steps," Clinton said.

The US Secretary of State, at the same time, acknowledged that doing this is going to be a bit tough for New Delhi. "Because we know that this is hard for India, just like it`s been hard for some of the European countries that were very dependent upon Iranian oil, for Japan. And we have worked with them and offered suggestions about alternative sources of supply at an affordable cost," Clinton said.

"So we appreciate the steps that India has taken, and we`re continuing to consult with them," Clinton said. India, she noted, shares exactly the goals of the United States on Iran. She said New Delhi has put itself on the line to get Tehran back to the negotiating table. "They have put themselves on the line to get Iran back into the P-5+1," Clinton told the National Public Radio (NPR) in an interview when asked of India`s role in the Iran issue.

The US has been urging India and other countries to slash oil imports from Iran aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran to comply with international demands over its nuclear programme. India, which imports 80 per cent of its crude oil and relies on Tehran for 12 per cent of those imports, has said it needed to continue to buy Iranian oil to meet its domestic requirements.

Though India has publicly not said it was aiming to cut back on oil imports from Iran, the country`s top oil importers have been pushed to reduce Iranian oil imports by 15-20 per cent. Crude imports from Iran fell to 18.5 million tonnes in 2010-11 from 21.2 million tonnes in 2009-10. Last fiscal (2011-12), Iranian oil imports dropped to less than 16 million tons. This year they may further come down to 14 million tonnes.