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US Congress eases off on India-Iran oil link

India seems to have survived the onslaught over crude oil imports from Iran with mollified US lawmakers showing recently-found understanding of New Delhi's position.

world Updated: May 18, 2012 01:24 IST
Yashwant Raj

India seems to have survived the onslaught over crude oil imports from Iran with mollified US lawmakers showing recently-found understanding of New Delhi's position.

At a congressional hearing on South Asia on Wednesday lawmakers seemed generally satisfied with administration's explanation of India's reduction of Iranian imports.

India might have helped its case by actually cutting imports from Iran - the government told Parliament on Wednesday it plans to bring it down by 11.1% this year.

When House foreign affairs committee hearing chair Steve Cabot asked if this was big enough, assistant secretary of state for South Asia Robert Blake said, "We continue to urge India to make progress and continue to reduce imports from Iran." But India seems to have made its case, and well. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/5/18_05-pg-17b'.jpg

Congressman Gerry Connolly, in fact, wanted the US to help India find other sources of oil as "we can't be unsympathetic to India's plight" of having to go off a major supplier.

Cut now to a couple of months ago when Iran was the outstanding issue at a senate hearing to confirm the nomination of Nancy Powell, then US ambassador-designate to India.

Senator Robert Menendez, a member of the India caucus, had wanted to know from Powell what she would do to bring India in line. It would be her top priority, she had replied.

Capitol Hill, home to US legislature, had seemed the most upset by India's refusal to comply with US sanctions. Lawmakers had openly said if the US had over-invested in India.

Resident and visiting Indian officials - among them foreign secretary Rajan Mathai -were continuously pressured at almost every meeting or interaction to cut Iranian imports.

As India began reducing Iranian exports- chiefly because it was becoming impossible to pay for them without violating US clampdown on financial dealings with Iran - the Hill moved.

The Congress Research Service, widely used by US lawmakers and their aides, caught and reflected that change in two recent status reports on Iran sanctions.

"There was a period when India was seen as not doing enough on multilateral US sanctions," author of the reports Kenneth Katzman told HT.

He added: "Perhaps the Indian government realized it was not publicly communicating what it was doing and it has since then made more information available. And there is a better understanding of India's position now."

Congressional aides agreed Iran was no longer the loyalty test it had become on the Hill, perhaps also because of newer issues, newer irritants.

At a recent event to release a report of Indian investments in the US, a train of US House representatives and senators showed up to show support and seek investments.

One of them, a senior Indian caucus leader, broke from the celebrations to raise the proposed retrospective tax law (the Vodafone case), and his opposition to it.