External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Monday refused to back America’s sanctions on Iran following the Donald Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
“We believe in UN sanctions. We don’t believe in country-specific mentions,” Swaraj said at a press conference in New Delhi. The minister was responding to a question on how India was coping with US’ decision to pull out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) earlier this month.
The significant remark came during the one-day visit of Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to New Delhi, where he met Swaraj.
Upon his arrival in New Delhi in the early hours of Monday morning, Zarif told Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, that "ways to safeguard both countries’ economic interests,” after US’ decision to pull out from the Iran nuclear deal, would be discussed in his meeting with Swaraj.
Zarif led a delegation of political and economic officials on his visit, each of who had meetings with their respective Indian counterparts, as per the statement released by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) after the meeting between Swaraj and Zarif.
India’s statement added that Swaraj “conveyed that all parties to the Agreement should engage constructively for peaceful resolution of the issues that have arisen with respect to the Agreement.”
Sources at the Iranian embassy in New Delhi told National Herald that exploring alternative channels for payments for crude imports, in face of US’ sanctions on Iranian companies, was discussed among other issues.
In her press briefing earlier, Swaraj said that there was no proposal as of then to set-up an Iranian bank branch in the country.
“Previous US sanctions on Iran didn’t affect our trade ties with Tehran,” Swaraj however maintained.
Energy imports from Iran form a crucial component of Iran-India bilateral ties, which touched $12.89 billion in 2016-17. Iran is India's third-largest oil supplier behind Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It supplied 18.4 million tonne of crude oil during April 2017 and January 2018 (first 10 months of 2017-18 fiscal).
Iranian government sources also noted that Iran, which holds one of the largest global reserves of natural gas, could also play a major role in achieving the current Indian government’s vision of increasing the share of natural gas to 20% of the total energy mix by 2022.
Sushma Swaraj’s remarks on Iran mark a mild departure from the government’s perceived foreign policy, which has been criticised for being too oriented towards the US since PM Modi came to power in 2014.
India has been involved in negotiations for bringing Iranian gas to the country, either through the $7.5 billion Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline, or a subsea pipeline through Oman to Porbandar. It has been estimated that importing natural gas from Iran could save India around $1 billion in import bills annually.
Swaraj’s remarks on Iran mark a mild departure from the government’s perceived foreign policy, which has been criticised for being too oriented towards the US since PM Modi came to power in 2014.
Earlier this month, Swaraj had been openly critical of Donald Trump’s protectionist policies. “I was sad when President Trump, in the UN General Assembly, said his slogan was me first,” the external affairs minister had said during an address.
(The story was last updated at 12:13 AM, after the MEA released a press statement late in the evening on the meeting between the two leaders).