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US House wants strong response from India on Iran

world Updated: Feb 09, 2012 02:28 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj

Ratcheting up the pressure on India to fall in line on Iran sanctions, US lawmakers on Tuesday told ambassador-designate Nancy Powell they expect her to press New Delhi harder. Powell, a career foreign service official who has done two tours of duty in India, was up on Capitol Hill for her confirmation.

"If confirmed, I know that this is going to be one of the issues that I will be spending a great deal of time on in working," Powell told the senate committee. Not once, twice.

Iran was bound to come up, and forcefully, as many Capitol Hill watchers have been warning of growing disquiet among the lawmakers over India's continuing oil trade. India, which buys 10% of its crude oil from Iran, has maintained that it is looking other sources, and that it is as opposed to Teheran's nuke plans as any other country.

"Press reports indicate that India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the ONGC, has come under pressure to finalize a service contract for natural gas production with Iran," said Republican senator Richard Lugar, asking, "Could you please give us your thoughts on an Indian company's involvement in Iran's energy sector, particularly something of this significance?" Shortly, this was followed by a slightly more edgy question. "The Indian government, which is one of Iran's largest crude customers, seems to be rebuking the sanctions and looking for workarounds, including considering payments in gold and transactions that detour around the central bank of Iran which, at the end of the day, still is helping the Iranian government have the resources to fuel their nuclear ambitions," said Democratic senator Robert Menendez.

To Powell's answer that "India shares with us a desire to see a nonnuclear state in Iran", the senator replied testily, "we need more than their good will or sharing our goals. We need their actions to join us and the rest of the international community in that regard."

Foreign secretary Rajan Mathai addressed the issue in a speech to a Washington DC think-tank: "Our relationship with Iran is neither inconsistent with our non-proliferation objectives, nor is it in contradiction with the relationships that we have with our friends in West Asia or with USand Europe."