- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2012

The third U.S.-India strategic dialogue gets under way in Washington this week as the Obama administration considers imposing sanctions on the South Asian nation for importing oil from Iran.

The United States wants India to end its dependence on Iranian oil and train Afghan security forces as the U.S. seeks to deepen its relationship with a nation it considers a linchpin of its new defense strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.

India’s oil imports have been a source of frustration in Washington as the U.S. pressures Iran to dissuade it from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes.

Timothy Roemer, who served as the U.S. ambassador to India until April, says India and the U.S. are on the same page when it comes to checking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

India has been cooperative and helpful, both to the United States and to the world community, on tightening sanctions on Iran,” Mr. Roemer said.

“They have cast some very difficult and very important votes in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] on tightening sanctions, have publicly committed that they do not want to see Iran get access to a nuclear weapon, and have significantly decreased their oil importation from Iran. Those efforts should be applauded.”

Indian officials say that their country has made significant cuts to its imports but that it is unrealistic to expect a total reduction overnight. In 2008-09, the percentage of India’s crude oil imports that came from Iran was 16.42 percent. By 2011-12, that number dropped to 10.29 percent.

Besides India, 11 countries, including China, South Korea and Turkey, face U.S. scrutiny over imports of Iranian oil. The sanctions will go into effect June 28 unless the Obama administration gives a waiver to countries that have shown an intent to significantly cut these imports.

The sanctions are against any transactions with the Central Bank of Iran by any private or public financial institution, and are related to the purchase of petroleum or petroleum products from Iran.

Strategic pillars

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton exempted 10 European nations and Japan from sanctions in March because they had reduced their Iranian oil imports significantly.

Mrs. Clinton and Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna will co-chair the strategic dialogue on Wednesday.

The dialogue is based on five pillars: strategic cooperation; energy and climate change; education and development; economics, trade and agriculture; and science and technology, health and innovation.

Afghanistan will be at the top of the agenda as a NATO deadline to withdraw all its combat troops from that country by the end of 2014 draws near.

“Any discussion of our strategic ties must begin with Afghanistan,” Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, told an audience at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Thursday.

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