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Iran, the new irritant in Indo-US ties

At a closed door dinner this week, a US lawmaker stunned the other guests with an appeal to the Indian government to fall in line with the US sanctions against Iran. Or else.

world Updated: Jan 28, 2012 01:14 IST
Yashwant Raj

At a closed door dinner this week, a US lawmaker stunned the other guests with an appeal to the Indian government to fall in line with the US sanctions against Iran. Or else.

He didn't spell out the consequences. But that statement was enough to light up a town that looks for signs and hints to forecast an earthquake, an impossible feat.

Iran has figured prominently in all of ambassador Nirupama Rao's recent meetings - both public and private - including one with secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday.

The US wants India to line up behind its sanctions against Iran to stop it from weaponizing its nuclear programme. It is demanding countries to stop importing oil from Iran.

While New Delhi is opposed to Teheran acquiring nuclear weapons, it's not ready to immediately abandon it as a source of oil - Iran meets 12% of India's crude oil imports.

But, as Rao said at an event on Tuesday, India is cutting down its dependence on Iranian oil. Saudi Arabia is making up the shortfall. But the US is apparently pushing for more, a clean break.

For the US, the differences are going to be more serious apparently than the loss of the MMRCA contract, Libya and Syria votes in the UNSC and the nuclear deal.

Is that too alarmist?
Far from it, argues Sadanand Dhume, a south Asia expert with American Enterprise Institute, a Washington DC think tank. India should get the warning.

If India is seen as stalling US-led attempts to deny Iran's quest for the bomb through economic sanctions, the backlash on Capitol Hill will be both severe and lasting," Dhume said.

At risk is India's equity on the Hill. "It will weaken the hand of those who call for a closer US-India partnership, and strengthen the hand of those who argue that US policy to bolster India's rise as a global power is misguided."

But the supposed disquiet on the Hill, as the home of the US legislature - both the Senate and the house of representatives - is known, may be an overplayed hand. "I think folks here are generally understanding of India's predicament," a congressional aide said.