Indian diplomacy is doing splendidly well in leveraging the United States’ sanctions against Iran to its advantage. All indications are that India has cut down its oil imports from Iran despite the official stance that India observes only the UN sanctions on Iran. The visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed appreciation more than once this week that Washington feels “encouraged” by the Indian government decision to reduce oil purchases from Iran.
She went a step ahead and offered help to India to diversify its sources. In fact, a senior US official is on his way to Delhi to help India locate alternate oil supplies. Reuters, meanwhile, confirmed that India’s oil imports from Iran in April dropped by over 30 percent. No wonder, Clinton was absolutely thrilled.
In the face of these hard facts, our government now concedes finally that, yes, oil imports from Iran have been reduced. But the new mantra is that this is due to “commercial, financial and technical considerations” and not because of US arm twisting, and, secondly, because the Indian refineries only are deciding on the oil imports from Iran — meaning it is not a government decision as such.
Of course, only a total duffer will fall for the sophistry. Our government is lying through its teeth. How come the government-owned refineries have suddenly developed cold feet toward Iranian oil but not privately-owned Essar Refinery?
Clearly, government has meekly succumbed to Washington’s diktat. Which is of course pitiable, but not surprising. All the same, curiously, the government is also leveraging the US arm twisting to its advantage. For one thing, it expects Washington not to impose sanctions against India in July for purchasing oil from Iran.
Besides, the US Congress, where the Israeli lobby is active, has been placated. Hopefully, India will get some benefit out of this ‘goodwill’ at the forthcoming Strategic Dialogue in Washington? Say, a permanent seat at the UN Security Council? Or, at the very least, a membership of the Nuclear Supply Group?
India has done well to take advantage of Iran’s woes. Forty-five percent of oil purchase from Iran will now be as barter trade. India manipulated the crisis in the payment mechanism (precipitated by the US, of course) to bring in the formula that since money can’t change hands between India and Iran, why not switch to barter arrangement?
So, India will sell tea and basmati rice and so on for half of Iran’s ‘sweet oil’. Isn’t that splendid? Besides, Iran also now needs to mandatorily buy from India products valued up to 45% of the income out of its oil exports to India. Isn’t that an ingenuous export promotion drive for India? Would Saudi Arabia or Qatar agree to such a deal — sell their oil and gas for India’s attar or aphrodisiacs? I wonder if our political elites who mollycoddle the wealthy Gulf sheikhs to their personal benefit could swing such a deal for India.
And, what does Iran get in return for this lop-sided deal? Nothing very much. Except, an Indian official or two may say now and then that Iran has the right to pursue its nuclear programme as an NPT member and that Iran nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through negotiations.
To my mind, Indian diplomacy has never showed such ruthless efficiency in leveraging a regional conflict situation to its advantage. I am waiting to see what happens if and when the US and Iran decide to kiss and make up sometime during Barack Obama’s second stint in the Oval Office. Hopefully, India will have become a permanent member of the UN Security Council by then?
– May 9, 2012