Clinton Pressures India To Stop Iran Oil Imports

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading home after a three day visit to India. Her trip comes at a time when both the U.S. and India are looking to chart a new economic and political course in South Asia.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Melissa Block. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading home to the U.S. after a three nation tour of Asia. Her last stop was India. There, she pushed the country to curb its taste for Iranian oil and challenged India's leaders to increase economic cooperation with the U.S.

Elliot Hannon reports from New Delhi.

ELLIOT HANNON, BYLINE: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in India after diplomatic problems over a dissident in China and tense discussions about human rights in Bangladesh. In Calcutta, she seemed to get a much warmer welcome.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It is my privilege and honor to welcome to India and to the state Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Let's have a huge round of applause.

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HANNON: She answered students' questions at a televised town hall and used the event to encourage India to reduce its imports of Iranian oil.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We commend the steps that they have taken thus far. We hope that they will do even more and we believe there is an adequate supply in the marketplace.

HANNON: Last week, India did announce a slight reduction in its oil imports from Iran, but has been reluctant to cut back as far as the U.S. would like. Convincing India to cut its Iranian oil imports has been a tough sell, not only because the Indian economy is energy-starved, but also because India needs good relations with Iran for strategic reasons, says Bharat Karnad from the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.

BHARAT KARNAD: There are limits to how much we can fall in line with the U.S.-led notions on Iran. The fact of the matter is India right now has no access to Central Asia or to Afghanistan except in Iran.

HANNON: With the U.S. scheduled to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, India's looking to increase its investment in that country. The U.S. has previously encouraged New Delhi to keep its Afghan activities low key to avoid offending Pakistan.

But there are now new opportunities for India to play a larger regional role, says Raja Mohan from the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank.

RAJA MOHAN: There are spaces opening up and some way India, Pakistan and Afghanistan can work together, that would be good for the United States, as well. So I think the American officials understand in this interest in positions and the Indian side understands what the U.S. wants to do. The trick is make sure that we don't embarrass each other.

HANNON: Secretary Clinton also called on India to further open its economy and to allow American retail giants like Wal-Mart to operate there. Trade between India and the U.S. is already set to top $100 billion this year, but when the Indian government recently tried to let Wal-Mart in, the decision led to a storm of protests, forcing a government u-turn.

Aja Garg(ph), the owner of a small electronic shop, says that was a good thing.

AJA GARG: (Unintelligible) Wal-Mart opens, they kill the local business. If they're doing it in America, they will definitely do it in India, but they should be opposed with total might.

HANNON: Secretary Clinton publicly pushed Pakistan to do more to crack down on terrorism targeting India, a move welcomed by New Delhi as an indication of deepening American understanding and India has been building up its military to back up its growing economic influence throughout Asia. Analysts say that's a move that the U.S. welcomes as both countries look to enhance their military cooperation.

For NPR News, I'm Elliot Hannon in New Delhi.

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