Cut down even more on Iranian oil imports: Hillary

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pressed India to do "even more" to cut its oil imports from sanctions-hit Iran.

Kolkata/New Delhi: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday pressed India to do "even more" to cut its oil imports from sanctions-hit Iran to keep pressure on Tehran to meet international demands on its disputed nuclear programme.

Clinton, whose trip to India coincided with the arrival of a large Iranian trade delegation to New Delhi, however lauded the steps taken by this country so far in lowering purchases of Iranian oil. The delegation is seeking commercial opportunities in India to mitigate the impact of US sanctions.

"India understands results of its policies…Is certainly working towards lowering purchases of Iranian oil. We commend the steps they have taken thus far," she told an interactive session held at the La Martiniere School for Girls in Kolkata on the second day of her three-day visit to India.

"We cannot accept that that they have taken it that far. We hope they will do even more and we think there is an adequate supply in the market place as Saudi Arabia, Iraq. We think this is part of India`s role in the international community," Clinton said ahead of her meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Iran is India`s second largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia.

Clinton`s remarks came when she was asked why the US wants India to reduce oil imports from Iran when India is not an oil producing nation.

The Iran Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the Persian state is confident it will solve its own difficulties in the wake of the global pressure sought to be put on other countries to stop oil imports.

"You (India) need oil and we need to sell and we need good cooperation....We will solve all difficulties. I think everything will be solved," Yahya Ale-Eshagh, President of Iran Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in New Delhi.

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.

"We believe, at this moment in time, the principal threat is a nuclear-armed Iran," she said. "We need India to be part of the international effort."

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 tonnes. This year they may further come down to 14 million tonnes.

India`s top importers - Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (MRPL) and Essar Oil-- will both cut Iranian oil imports this fiscal. MRPL plans to reduce Iranian oil buy to less than 100,000 barrels per day from 142,000 bpd while Essar Oil plans a 15 per cent cut to 85,000 bpd from 100,000 bpd.
India could face US sanctions by the end of June if the Obama administration determines it has not made significant cuts in imports under a law aimed at squeezing Iran`s petroleum industry to press the country to prove its nuclear programme is peaceful.

The US State Department said in March that 12 countries, including India and China, were at risk of sanctions because of purchases of Iranian oil.
US officials, who declined to be named, told the press travelling with Clinton that Washington`s assessment is that India was working satisfactorily in this direction.

"But we really need to receive assurances that they are going to continue to make good progress," they said.