India to decide on buying oil from Iran after LS polls 

Zarif meets Swaraj amid escalating tension between US and Iran

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj greets Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as he arrives for a meeting, in New Delhi, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (PTI Photo)

India will take a call on importing crude oil from Iran only after the Lok Sabha elections gets over, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Tuesday. 

Even as Zarif discussed with Swaraj ways to continue export of crude oil from Iran to India despite United States sanctions on its energy exports, New Delhi remained non-committal and maintained that it would decide on the issue only after the conclusion of its ongoing parliamentary polls. 

Zarif told journalists after his meeting with Swaraj that he had discussed with his counterpart in New Delhi “continuation of energy trade” and “a special financial system to augment trade and economic cooperation” between Iran and India. Though Iranian Foreign Minister did not give details of the “special financial system”, he was apparently referring to exploring ways for India to pay for its energy imports from Iran, without making its entities liable for actions under US sanctions. 

New Delhi, which has been trying to maintain a delicate balance between its ties with Iran and the US, remained cautious though. Sources later quoted Swaraj conveying to Zarif that India would take a call purchase of crude oil from Iran after the elections, “keeping in mind” its “commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests”.

To make it sure Swaraj-Zarif meeting on Tuesday does not send out a wrong message to Washington D.C.; New Delhi underlined that Iranian Foreign Minister's visit was “his own initiative” to brief his counterpart in India on Tehran's approach to the recent developments in the region, including on the 2015 deal, as well as to review bilateral cooperation. Sources pointed out that Zarif's visit to New Delhi and his meeting with Swaraj was part of Iran's consultation with other countries in the region, including Russia, China, Turkmenistan, and Iraq over the last few days.

Swaraj told Zarif that India would like all parties to the 2015 agreement “to continue to fulfil their commitments and all parties should engage constructively and resolve all issues peacefully and through dialogue.” They also discussed the evolving situation in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, in the wake of the peace-process the US launched with the Taliban. 

Iran was the third-largest oil supplier for India after Iraq and Saudi Arabia. India bought 23.6 million tons of oil from Iran in 2018-19 financial year. 

India, however, has been slashing its energy import from Iran after the US on November 4, 2018 re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, particularly targeting the energy exports from the West Asian nation. The sanctions came into effect almost six months after President Doland Trump's Administration in Washington D.C. decided to withdraw from the deal that United States, four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany as well as European Union had inked with Iran in 2015 to end the row over the controversial nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic.

Trump Administration earlier this month ended the waivers, which it had granted to India, China and six other nations last year to enable them to continue to import crude oil from Iran without making their entities liable to the US sanctions. 

The US withdrew the waivers to step up pressure on India, China and other nations to completely stop importing crude oil from Iran.

New Delhi reacted to the decision of Trump Administration, saying that it was “adequately prepared” to deal with its impact and would continue to work with “partner nations, including with the US, to find all possible ways to protect legitimate energy and economic security interests of India”. 

Zarif reached New Delhi late on Monday – hours after France, Germany and United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, urged the US to exercise “maximum restraint” and avoid taking any action that could escalate tension in the Persian Gulf region. 

Swaraj and Zarif also held a discussion on escalating tension in the Persian Gulf after the US blamed Iran for the sabotage on four oil tankers – two Saudi Arabian, one Norwegian and another Emirati – off the coast of United Arab Emirates. 

Just before his meeting with Swaraj, Zarif said that India was one of the most important “economic, political and regional” partners of Iran. He said that India and Iran had “regular consultations on various issues” and he had come to New Delhi to discuss with External Affairs Minister on “most recent developments” in the region as well as bilateral relations between the two nations. 

He noted that India was one of the biggest importers of crude oil from Iran. He added that Tehran and New Delhi had designed a special financial system to augment trade and economic cooperation.

“Just had excellent talks in Turkmenistan and India. Those who actually live in our fragile neighbourhood have a real national security interest in promoting peace, stability, cooperation and connectivity. Iran remains a most accessible, efficient, sustainable and secure partner,” Iranian Foreign Minister posted on Twitter later on Tuesday. 

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