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Unfazed by US, India to scale up business with Iran

In spite of sanctions by the US and the European Union and Israel linking Tehran to the attack on an Israeli embassy car, India is set to step up its energy and business ties with Iran, with a commerce ministry team set to visit Tehran soon.

business Updated: Feb 14, 2012 21:40 IST

In spite of sanctions by the US and the European Union and Israel linking Tehran to the attack on an Israeli embassy car here, India is set to step up its energy and business ties with Iran, with a commerce ministry team set to visit Tehran soon.

The team is expected to go later this month to discuss steps to expand India's trade with Iran, part of a larger strategy to pay for Iranian oil, highly placed sources told IANS.

Despite the Western sanctions on Iran, India recently sealed a payment mechanism under which Indian firms will pay for 45 percent of their crude oil imports from Iran in rupees.

Not just oil, India is also stepping up the refurbishing of the Chabahar Port in Iran and a strategic railway link that will offer it direct access to Afghanistan and the energy-rich Central Asia.

In recent years, India has taken care to insulate its multi-faceted ties with Iran from the West's prickly standoff with Tehran over its nuclear programme. The West accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons.

India is uneasy at Israeli accusations about Iran's hand in the Monday bombing that targeted an Israeli embassy car, badly injuring the wife of the Israeli defence attache. Iran has rubbished the Israeli charges.

But with Israel launching a diplomatic offensive and the powerful American Jewish Congress (AJC) asking India to scale down its engagement with Iran, New Delhi could come under renewed pressure from the West to cut off ties with what the Americans say is a rogue regime.

India made it clear Tuesday that there was no evidence to link any country to the audacious Monday attack.

"It is premature to take any country's name," Home Secretary R.K. Singh told reporters. "We don't have any idea who planted (the bomb). The perpetrators will be known only after the investigation is completed."

P.S. Haer, a former ambassador of India to Iran, said since New Delhi enjoyed strong relations with both Israel and Iran, it will be careful not to be drawn into any partisan stand.

“The incident will not affect India's ties with Iran. Why should India give in to others' assumptions and pressure to compromise its ties with Iran?” Haer told IANS.

Ajai Sahni, a terrorism expert, said it was very unlikely that the attack would ever be traced to the Iranian state.

But he said India could come under extra pressure as Israel may leverage the incident to portray Iran as a rogue regime.

The American Jewish Congress has told Indian ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao that it was "deeply troubled" by India's efforts to intensify trade relations with Iran "at the very moment when the US and fellow democracies are applying new economic pressures" on Tehran.

India continues to buy Iranian oil and expand economic relations with Iran. Iran used to supply 12 percent of India's oil imports, but for some time its share has dropped to 10 percent.

Last week, as the European Union asked India to broker talks with Tehran over its atomic programme, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pitched for a resolution of the issue by giving "maximum scope" to diplomacy.