NEW DELHI: A US official on Monday indicated that her country understood India’s complex relationship with Iran but said the ties would be important in persuading the West Asian nation to fulfil international obligations.
This was conveyed by Wendy Sherman, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, in a speech in Delhi. She is visiting the country to finalize the agenda for the India-US strategic dialogue to be chaired by foreign minister S.M. Krishna and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton in Washington in June.
In New Delhi, Sherman held talks with foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai on Monday. The “talks were held in the spirit of broad and deep strategic relationship that characterises India-US relations,” said two people close to development. “The discussions were held in a friendly and candid manner. They included a review of important developments… and covered all regional and international issues of interest to both sides.” The people declined to be named.
Sherman noted in her address that India-US bilateral trade would touch $90 billion in 2011 and $100 billion in 2012 while listing diverse areas of cooperation, ranging from defence, energy and education to skills development.
Stating that she did not wish to “paper” over what she termed “tactical, more than substantive differences,” Sherman said that on Iran’s controversial programme India and the US “shared the same fundamental goals” which included preserving regional stability and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Achieving these goals meant making hard choices, she said. The US recognised India’s historical linkages with Iran and its importance as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
But the international community had serious concerns, Sherman said, about Iran’s nuclear programme that the West considers a cover for developing atomic weapons.Tehran says its programme is for peaceful purposes. Recent media reports said Israel was readying to attack Iranto prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Sherman said India and the US had voted four times against the Iranian nuclear weapons programme at the International Atomic Energy Agency. India had stated publicly that it was against another nuclear weapons state in its neighbourhood, she said.
The US was pushing for a diplomatic solution to the problem though the time and space for this was not unlimited, she said.
“We do not seek to undermine India’s energy security,”Sherman said. “India’s partnership and willingness to press Iran in whatever ways are appropriate for Iran to fulfil its international obligations is essential for international efforts to be successful.”
One of the two people cited above said the import of Sherman’s remarks was that the the US did not want to let Iran— from where India imports 12-13% of its crude oil requirements—become an irritant in the India-US strategic partnership that has developed over the past decade, a far cry from the days the two countries were known as estranged democracies. This is even though “the US has its own compulsions on Iran,” said the person, referring to a series of sanctions announced by the country in December that will impact countries buying oil from Iran. “The US is trying to navigate between these two complex positions—its own position on Iran and its strategic partnership with India,” the person said.
According to former foreign secretary and ex-ambassador to the US, Lalit Mansingh, the US “seems to be trying to bridge the gap between the US and India on Iran. This is the first time that the US has publicly acknowledged the special relationship between India and Iran.
“I think the United States is urging us to send a public message to the Iranians to fulfil its international obligations,” Mansingh said.