In what is seen as a smart diplomatic move, New Delhi has publicly maintained a contrary stance on US sanctions on Iran while at the same time asking the state-run oil firms to cut down on their crude oil imports from Tehran, in a bid to carefully balance relations with the two countries.
Suspecting that the Iran nuclear programme was meant to produce weapons, the US had said 12 countries that buy Iranian oil could eventually be subject to financial sanctions unless they cut their imports from Iran.
On Tuesday, the US granted exemptions, from its crippling financial sanctions, to Japan and 10 EU nations that had reportedly cut Iranian crude buys. However, India and China were still exposed to such a risk.
Sources in oil firms said under instructions from the foreign ministry, the oil ministry is privately demanding a 15-20% import cut from state-run refiners. This could help India gain an exemption from the US.
A Reuters report said the overall cuts that Indian refiners are planning to take could be as deep as 20%.
Calling it an “extremely sensitive issue”, a senior official of the petroleum ministry told HT, “We are not allowed to disclose anything on this”. He, however, did not deny that state refiners had been asked to cut 10-15% of oil imports from Tehran.
Industry experts said India had other sources of oil supply to replace supplies from Iran and there was no likelihood of any shortfall in supplies resulting from the cut.
India is Iran’s second largest buyer of oil after China. In lieu of oil imports from Iran, Indian refiners are seeking additional supplies from the world’s top oil exporters, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait.
The biggest oil producer in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries after Saudi Arabia and the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. The US, however, suspects it is intended to produce weapons, so it pressuring Iran into giving up the N-program.