In India, Few Takers For Tighter Iran Sanctions

India is rejecting U.S. pressure to tighten sanctions against Iran. One reason is economics. Other reasons are more complex: Indian leaders feel the U.S. neglected them after India agreed to earlier sanctions against Iran.

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While the Obama administration is also urging Iran's regional neighbors to sanction Iran, that is not going over well in India, which sees Iran as a major source for its energy needs.

NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from New Delhi on the reasons that India's view of Iran is so different from that of the U.S.

COREY FLINTOFF: India and Iran have had a relationship that dates back not just for years but millennia.

Mr. RAJIV SIKFI (Foreign Policy Strategist): You have to understand that unlike the United States, which is many thousands of miles away, Iran is a neighbor. There is a certain empathy among the people. We are both old civilizations.

FLINTOFF: That's Rajiv Sikri, a retired Indian diplomatic and foreign policy strategist. He says India's longstanding economic, political and cultural ties to Iran all play into its current policy. The most immediate concern is economic. India needs energy to fuel its phenomenal growth rate of more than eight percent, and Iran currently provides about 14 percent of India's crude oil.

Indian companies are heavily invested in Iran's oil sector and likely to become more so as Western companies stay away because of the sanctions. India needs energy to fuel its phenomenal growth rate of more than eight percent and Iran currently provides about 14 percent of India's crude oil.

Indian companies are heavily invested in Iran's oil sector and likely to become more so as Western companies stay away because of the sanctions. India is looking at ways to tap Iran's huge reserves of natural gas, including a proposed undersea pipeline.

India's foreign secretary Nirupama Rao made India's position explicit earlier this month when she said restrictions on investment in Iran's energy sector could have a direct and adverse impact on Indian companies, and more importantly on India's energy security. It's not just a one-way trade in petroleum products either.

Mr. ESSAY MADHAVI(ph)(Economic Counselor): India is selling a lot of rice to us. We are selling them a lot of chemical products.

FLINTOFF: That's Essay Madhavi, the economic counselor at the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi. He says Iran's trade with India has tripled in the past five years to around $15 billion a year.

Mr. MADHAVI: You know, the international market now, it is a very competitive market, and seller and buyer do not see that what politics says. They go ahead according to their interests.

FLINTOFF: Indians also point out that they're not the only ones with strong economic ties to Iran. This is M.J. Akbar, the editor of India's Sunday Guardian newspaper.

Mr. M.J. AKBAR (Editor, Sunday Guardian): The most important land partners of Iran are not part of the sanctions regime. If Turkey is not, what kind of sanctions are we going to have?

FLINTOFF: Iran also figures into India's geopolitical interests in the region, including its relations with Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. Rajiv Sikri says that India wants to stay engaged with Afghanistan partly to counter terrorism and partly to balance the influence of its main rival, Pakistan. Pakistan has been blocking India's land access to Afghanistan, so the Indians built a road through Iran.

India supported the U.S. drive for sanctions against Iran in 2005 and 2006, when it was negotiating for a nuclear technology deal with the Bush administration. Sikri says many Indian leaders feel the U.S. never appreciated what a difficult decision that was for India and never properly reciprocated.

Mr. SIKRI: We thought we had a strategic relationship. But we see that at a strategic level you're again taking the Pakistani line. Our interests in Afghanistan are not being considered. You are cozying up to the Chinese. We are not getting the technology that we thought we were getting as a result of the nuclear deal. So I think the government is right in saying enough is enough.

FLINTOFF: U.S. officials have said that containing Iran's nuclear ambitions is as important for India's security as it is for the United States. But Sikri says Indians are less anxious about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran because they already live with a rival who has the bomb - Pakistan.

India says it will abide by the latest U.N. sanctions, which prohibit weapons sales to Iran in dealings in nuclear technology. But it's unlikely to give in to U.S. and European pressure to stop investment in Iranian firms, especially in the oil and gas industry. Again, Rajiv Sikri...

Mr. SIKRI: You're thousands of miles away. We are next door. So you know, we have to live with Iran now and a thousand years from now.

FLINTOFF: Corey Flintoff, NPR News, New Delhi.

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