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‘Not helpful’, says US on India’s plans to buy Iran oil, Russia’s S-400 air missiles

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 12-10-2018

As a top US official headed for New Delhi for talks on Iran sanctions a state department spokesperson on Thursday said “it’s not helpful” that India plans to continue buying Iranian oil and go ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, both of which are subject to secondary sanctions under separate US authorities.

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Special representative on Iran Brian Hook, accompanied by assistant secretary of state for energy Francis Fannon, will meet “Indian government counterparts for consultations”, the state department announced Thursday.

The note did not provide any details of the talking points, but added, generically, the special representative “will engage our allies and partners on our shared need to counter the entirety of the Iranian regime’s destructive behaviour in the Middle East, and in their own neighbourhoods”.

From New Delhi Hook will fly to Luxembourg, France and Belgium.

State department spokesperson Heather Nauert said “it’s not helpful” to note India plans to continue buying Iranian oil and the decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defence systems, both of which are subject to secondary American sanctions.

The spokesperson’s observation came a day after President Donald Trump said India “is going to find out … (and) sooner think you think” his decision on its recent S-400 deal with Russia. About India’s and China’s reported plans to continue buying Iranian crude even after the sanctions kick in early November, Trump had said, “We will take care of that.”

While Trump’s comments did not reveal much despite their ominous portent, Nauert added a new edge to them even saying, “But certainly when we hear about things such as purchasing oil or purchasing of the S-400 systems, it’s not helpful.....The United States Government just reviews that very carefully.”

India has also indicated in recent days that its state-owned refiners will continue to buy Iranian crude even after the second round of US sanctions kick in on November 5, specifically targeting oil, ports and banking. New Delhi has also, at the same time, cut its purchases in anticipation of the curbs.

India has sought waivers, which the US has said it may consider on a case-by-case basis for countries that shown significant reduction in the imports, but it has received no public guarantees yet. New Delhi also wants a carve-out for Chabahar, an Iranian port it has helped build and operates as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Iran is India’s third largest oil supplier and it would need time to switch to other producers, a process in which the United States has said it is helping out. A phased reduction is what it has sought, as had been the policy under President Barack Obama before the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015 that lifted the UN-mandated Iran sanctions reinforced by those imposed by the United States.

India signed an agreement with Russia last week to sign five S-400 missile defense systems at an estimated cost of $5.4 billion despite appeals from the United States that the S-400s were a “focus area” of secondary sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), a law aimed at punishing Russia for annexing Crimea from Ukraine and interfering in US elections in 2016.

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