US cautions India against Syria oil deal

Published on Jan 28, 2006 05:23 PM IST

The US has cautioned India against going ahead with its decision to buy a Syrian oilfield along with China.

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None | ByIndo-Asian News Service, New Delhi

Saying Syria was on "the wrong side of history", the US has cautioned India against going ahead with its decision to buy a Syrian oilfield along with China.

But US diplomats insist this is no pressure tactic on New Delhi.

"Our views on Syria are well known. A communication was made from our side to the Indian government early December conveying our objections to the oil deal," US embassy spokesman David Kennedy said.

Kennedy was referring to an aide memoire listing Washington's objections that was handed over to the Indian government by US diplomats.

In December, ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) and the China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) jointly purchased a 37 per cent stake in the al-Furat oil and gas fields in Syria from Petro-Canada for $573 million.

"Syria has been on the wrong side of history. Increasingly, the rest of the Middle East is moving towards democracy and freedom. On the other hand, Syria has always supported terror," Kennedy said.

The aide memoire says: "Now is not the time to send mixed messages to the (Syrian government) either through investment deals or any form of economic or political reward to the Damascus regime."

The US has accused Syria of obstructing investigation into a probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and of continuing to instigate violence in Lebanon.

In view of the national furore sparked by US envoy David Mulford's remarks linking the success of the India-US nuclear deal to New Delhi's stand on Iran, Kennedy appeared to soft pedal Washington's objections to the India-China joint venture in Syria.

"It doesn't imply pressure. It reflects that we are important strategic partners and we have a good communication on all issues," he said.

"And this is the big difference about India-US relations now that we can talk on all these issues frankly. Not too long ago, we were not talking on global issues," he added.

"At the end of the day, India will make its own decisions in its national interest on any issue, whether it is Iran, Iraq or Syria. We respect that."

The Indian government has not reacted to the US aide memoire on the Syrian oil deal.

On Iran, however, the external affairs ministry ticked off the US ambassador and made it clear that it would decide on Tehran's nuclear programme on the basis of India's national interests.

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