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India to US media, Israeli lobby: back off on Iran oil charges

New York: Tired of being skewered for buying oil from Iran, India slammed the pro-Israeli lobby and US media on Tuesday for projecting a ''distorted picture of New Delhi's foreign policy objectives and energy security needs'' by using data selectively about its imports from Iran.

“India’s relationship with Iran is neither inconsistent with non-proliferation objectives, nor do we seek to contradict the relationships we have with our friends in West Asia or with the US and Europe,” said the Indian Embassy in Washington.

The embassy took the unusual step of speaking out on Iran as it wanted to counter the lopsided stories put out by the US media suggesting India had stepped up its oil imports from Iran despite its close ties with US and Israel.

“Allusions in the media that India's overall oil imports from Iran are increasing just because its monthly uptake of Iranian oil reportedly increased in January this year are based on selective use of information, misrepresenting the fact that in aggregate terms, crude imports from Iran constitute a declining share of India's oil imports," Indian Embassy spokesman Virander Paul said in a strong statement.

The Indian embassy addressed the issue head-on on Tuesday by saying people tend to gloss over India's dependence on oil imports from Iran. Reuters

The Wall Street Journal was quick to flash that “India lifts imports of Iran’s Oil” on 9 February and other media outlets followed. The reports raised the hackles of US state department officials and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who actually grasps India’s situation vis-à-vis Iran better than most American bureaucrats, finally testified before a Congressional committee last month, saying the US is having “very intense and very blunt” conversations with India, China and Turkey on reducing their dependence on Iranian oil.

The Indian embassy addressed the issue head-on on Tuesday by saying people tend to gloss over India's dependence on oil imports from Iran. It actually serves the “energy needs” of over 400 million Indians who don’t yet have access to commercial energy. India, clearly, will continue to be driven by its own domestic interests on Iranian oil supply.

"Given the imperative of meeting the energy needs of millions of Indians, an automatic replacement of all Iranian oil imports, is not a simple matter of selection, or a realistic option," said the embassy.

The embassy also gave three other imperatives for India's ties with Iran and its regional policy: the familiar one based on India's "civilization" ties with Iran; the presence of six million Indians in the Gulf and the effect on them of a volatile security situation; and shared interests on Afghanistan.

"Iran is also India's only corridor for land access to Afghanistan, through which is routed most of our development and reconstruction assistance to that country," it reminded US critics.

In a good sign, world powers including the US and Britain formally accepted an offer from Iran on Tuesday to resume negotiations over its nuclear programme, overriding warnings from Israel that it was tiring of diplomacy.

New Delhi urged everyone to stop beating the drums of war; “As a responsible member of the international community, India takes its obligations most seriously. At the same time, it firmly believes that the situation concerning Iran should not be allowed to escalate into a conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in nobody’s interest.”

President Obama also took aim on Tuesday at Republican presidential contenders who have criticised his cautious approach to combating Iran's suspected nuclear program and charged that his detractors are "popping off" without considering the implications of war.

However, the resumption of talks with the 'E3+3' – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US – after a hiatus of more than a year is unlikely to impress Israel, however, after Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's prime minister, used a two-day visit to Washington to declare that neither sanctions nor diplomacy were working.

There is growing concern in Washington and other world capitals that Israel is preparing to launch unilateral military action against Iran's nuclear facilities within months.