US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Monday urged India to reduce oil imports from Iran to keep up the pressure on the Islamic republic to halt its disputed nuclear programme.
"India ... is certainly working toward lowering their purchase of Iranian oil, and we commend the steps they have taken thus far," she said at a town-hall meeting in the eastern metropolis of Kolkata. "We hope they will do even more."
Energy-starved India is against expanding Western sanctions on Iran and has reluctantly reduced oil imports from the country.
According to local media reports, Indian oil companies have cut Iranian oil imports so that Tehran, which used to supply 12 percent of India's oil imports less than two years ago, now accounts for just more than 9 percent.
This gap has been made up by increased imports from Saudi Arabia while Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have also increased supplies.
"The reason why India, China, Japan, European countries, who are the primary purchasers of Iran's oil, are being asked to lower their supplies is to keep the pressure on Iran," Clinton said, adding there was an adequate supply on the market of alternative sources of oil.
Clinton said it was "too early to say" whether India would be given a waiver from US sanctions that begin in late June on countries that keep buying oil from Iran.
If India fails to reduce Iranian oil imports, Washington could bar access to the US banking system for any Indian bank having oil payment transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The move is designed to choke off Tehran's oil income, its main source of revenue.
On the first leg of her visit to India, Clinton said she was apprehensive about the possibility of a military conflict between Iran and Israel.
"We would like to see them [Iran] join the international consensus for peaceful use of nuclear power but give up irrevocably their right to weapons," she said.
Clinton arrived in India Sunday for a three-day tour after visiting China and Bangladesh. In Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state, Clinton met with state chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, and assured her of US investment in the region, the latter told reporters.
Both Banerjee and Clinton are listed among Time magazine's most influential people in 2012.
During her Kolkata tour, Clinton pushed for greater economic engagement between India's eastern region and South-East Asia and beyond, saying it was "central" to the growth of the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Clinton, who later left for New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh later Monday, also pitched for the opening up of the Indian economy, particularly for foreign direct investment in multibrand retail.
"There has been a lot of progress (in ties). But we always think more (progress) can be made to reduce barriers, open markets to greater trade and investment, in economic reforms from manufacturing to retail, to spark growth, create jobs and lower prices for consumers."
Following her meetings with Singh and Sonia Gandhi, chairwoman of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, Clinton was to meet Foreign Minister SM Krishna Tuesday.
The agenda was expected to include progress on a civilian nuclear energy cooperation agreement between the two countries.
That agreement has been in the doldrums because of differences over the scope of an Indian civil nuclear liability law, which seeks to impose heavy penalties on nuclear equipment suppliers in case of an accident.
The two sides would also review progress in the strategic partnership, ahead of the US-India Strategic Dialogue to be held in Washington next month.
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