US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged energy-starved India on Monday to reduce its Iranian oil imports to keep up pressure on the Islamic republic to come clean about its nuclear program.
Clinton told a town hall meeting in the eastern city of Kolkata that there's an adequate supply in the market for India to find alternative sources of oil. Clinton noted India has taken some steps to reduce its imports from Iran but she says the US wants to see more.
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"If there weren't an adequate supply ... we would understand, but we believe that there is adequate supply," she said.
An Iranian oil refinery. (Photo: EPA)
India could face US sanctions by the end of June if the Obama administration determines it has not made significant cuts in imports under a law aimed at squeezing Iran's petroleum industry to press the country to prove its nuclear program is peaceful.
India, with a growth rate of about 7%, has a nearly insatiable need for oil. About 9% of its oil imports are from Iran, though officials say it has reduced its dependency on Iranian oil in recent months,
"We appreciate what has been done and, of course, we want to keep the pressure on Iran," Clinton said.
However, India remains dependent on the imports, and Iran is its second largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. With international sanctions making it difficult to find banks willing to handle Iranian oil payments, India and Iran reached an agreement earlier this year that would allow India to pay for about 45% the purchases in rupees. Iran would then use the Indian currency to buy goods from India.
Clinton said the US remained focused on putting global pressure on Iran.
"We believe, at this moment in time, the principle threat is a nuclear-armed Iran," she said. "We need India to be part of the international effort."
Clinton was also meeting Monday with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a key partner of India's ruling coalition who has stymied government efforts to lift restrictions on foreign-owned investments in the country.
Clinton was expected to talk with Banerjee about allowing multi-brand retailers such as Wal-Mart to enter the market.
Last year, India's Cabinet had to rescind a decision to open up its market to major foreign retailers after Banerjee balked at the move, saying it would crush small domestic retailers.
"I will certainly raise the United States' desire to try to open the market to multi-brand retailers," Clinton told the audience at the town hall. "I think there are a lot of benefits that may not be immediately perceived."
Cinton will head to Delhi later Monday, where she is expected to press India to push ahead with its stalled economic reform program, even though the prime minister's chief economic adviser said last month that no new reforms were likely before the next election in 2014.