NEW DELHI: The US is acting tough on India regarding energy imports from Iran + , and New Delhi, despite its efforts to preserve energy independence, may be forced to comply to avoid sanctions from kicking in. The Iran message was delivered most clearly by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley during her visit to the city. In a special address on Thursday afternoon, Haley said, “The world is united against Iran having nuclear weapons because we all have good reason to worry about what Iran would do with those weapons.”
During the Obama years, India had to show a “significant reduction” and demonstrate it was bringing down oil imports at an average rate of 20% every six months. But US President Donald Trump has insisted that this go down to “zero”. That is also why the state department’s briefing to journalists this week on Iran was tougher than the one in early May.
Haley’s message comes even as the US pulled out of the 2+2 dialogue + because secretary of state Mike Pompeo chose to travel to North Korea to “follow up” on the Trump-Kim summit. The decision, seen as an open snub to India, also comes at a time when the bilateral relationship is under strain amid growing trade and economic disputes.
Sources said the dialogue would be rescheduled “soon” but bringing four top ministers together on a single day is proving to be a challenge. MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar maintained India’s official position. In reply to a question, he said, “The statement was not India-specific and applies to all countries. India will take all necessary steps, including engagement with relevant stakeholders, to ensure our energy security.”
However, Haley was unambiguous on Iran. Describing Iran as a “theocratic dictatorship that abuses its people, funds terrorism and spreads conflict throughout the Middle East”, she said, “The Tehran regime is the hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden, force behind most of the conflict in the region. And its aggressive ambitions reach much further abroad. Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon threatens all of us.”
During her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, Haley re-emphasised the importance of India cutting oil imports from Iran. In an interview to a TV channel, Haley reiterated that message: “I think for the future of India, future of resources, we would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran.”
If that did not sound tough enough, she clarified, “All of us have to rethink who we choose to do business with. I think, as a friend, India should also decide is this a country they want to continue doing business with. So yes, I had that conversation with PM Modi. It was a constructive conversation.”
Haley has been the tough US face, taking the hard line against Iran, North Korea and spearheading Washington’s walkout from the UN Human Rights Council + (UNHRC). Haley also targeted Pakistan in her remarks, to remind India that the Trump administration is taking a very different line towards Islamabad than its predecessors.
India has been appreciative of the US’s toughness on Pakistan, which was signalled with the South Asia review and the national security strategy. Haley said, “We cannot tolerate any government giving safe haven to terrorists. We won’t tolerate it. We are communicating this message to Pakistan more strongly than in the past and we hope to see changes.”