New Delhi/Washington: The US may be satisfied that India is "making steps in the right direction" to impose sanctions on Iran, but New Delhi has made it clear that it has no intention to stop oil imports from Iran or scale down business ties with Tehran.
"With respect to India, they are making steps that are heading in the right direction," US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a House panel in Washington Wednesday. But "I think that we have made progress - not enough, in my view - with respect to China."
"They (China) have actually worked with us to prevent certain businesses within China from continuing their trade," Clinton said.
"They have reached out to the Saudis and others to determine ways to make up their loss of oil if they cut what they receive from Iran. In fact, I think in a number of instances the actions of countries and their banks are better than the public statements that we sometimes hear them making," she added.
Besides India and China, "we're having very candid conversations with a number of countries to try to impress on them our seriousness about enforcing sanctions which will have very difficult consequences for them," she said.
Reacting to Clinton's statement, officials in New Delhi Thursday, however, maintained that India abides by the UN sanctions and not unilateral sanctions by individual countries or groupings.
India's position on importing oil from Iran was conveyed by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai to senior US officials during his visit to Washington last month.
In fact, India is understood to have used the New Delhi-aided Chabahar Port in Iran recently for the first time to transport 100,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan as part of its humanitarian aid to the war-torn country.
A delegation from India's commerce ministry will be heading to Tehran later this month to explore new business opportunities.
Last month, India sealed a payment mechanism under which Indian companies will pay for 45 percent of their crude oil imports from Iran in rupees.
Not just oil, India is also stepping up the refurbishing of the Chabahar Port in Iran and a strategic railway link that will offer it direct access to Afghanistan and the energy-rich Central Asia.
India continues to buy Iranian oil and expand economic relations with Iran. Iran used to supply 12 percent of India's oil imports, but for some time its share has dropped to 10 percent.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist Thursday claimed that oil imports from Iran were being "quietly" reduced in spite of official statements that India would continue to buy oil from that country, and accused the government of caving in to American "pressure".
"Notwithstanding Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's statement that India will continue to buy oil from Iran, quietly steps are being taken to reduce oil imports from Iran," senior CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury said.
He quoted figures to show that crude imports from Iran had fallen from 21.8 million tonnes in 2008-09 to 18.5 million tonnes in 2010-11 and to 13.1 million tonnes in the current fiscal year, with the oil ministry giving "instructions to the state oil companies to explore other sources."