Nikki Haley urges India to ‘rethink’ Iran ties ahead of US sanctions

In 2-day visit to New Delhi, US envoy warns renewed measures could hit India over Iranian oil imports

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during an address on advancing India-US relations at an event in New Delhi on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA)
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during an address on advancing India-US relations at an event in New Delhi on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA)

NEW DELHI, India — The US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on Thursday urged India to reconsider its ties to Iran, one of its key energy suppliers, as fresh US sanctions on buyers of Iranian oil loom.

Washington has stepped up pressure on major Iranian customers to stop importing its oil, warning no trading partner will be exempt from new economic sanctions when they bite from November 4.

India imports the overwhelming majority of the Islamic Republic’s oil and Iran is the third-largest supplier to the nation of 1.25 billion.

Haley said she understood India “can’t change its relationship with Iran in a day” but said she used a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi to encourage a reassessment.

“I also think for the future of India, and the future of being able to get resources and who they’re dependent on, I would encourage them to rethink their relationship with Iran,” she told broadcaster NDTV after an address in New Delhi.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, right, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, wave after a ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential palace, in New Delhi, India, February 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

“I think as a friend, India should also decide is this a country that they want to continue doing business with.”

US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal last month, re-imposing sanctions that had been suspended in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.

US officials said Washington would be asking major Iranian customers to reduce their oil imports to zero, and warned no exemptions would be made when the sanctions were enforced.

Before the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers, various buyers of Iranian oil including India had waivers or exemptions to US sanctions.

India’s foreign ministry said Thursday however that the Islamic Republic was a “very traditional partner” that enjoyed “historical, civilizational linkages” to India.

“She has her views, and ours views on Iran are very clear,” said ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar of Haley, whose two-day visit to India also included visits to holy sites in the Indian capital.

“We will take all necessary steps, including engagement with relevant stakeholders to ensure our energy security.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley (C) prays at Sis Ganj Gurudwara, a Sikh temple in New Delhi on June 28, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH)

‘No rift’

Haley’s visit coincided with revelations that a long-anticipated meeting between US and Indian defense and foreign ministers, known as a 2+2, had been delayed for a second time.

The UN ambassador played down rumors of a rift, saying the meeting would be rescheduled “very soon” and was “an important sign of how much our security and defense cooperation has grown in recent years.”

Washington has put new emphasis on its military ties to New Delhi and its regional role as a counter to China’s rise.

But it could still fall foul of US sanctions imposed last August threatening sanctions on any country doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.

India, the world’s top defense importer, had been in talks with Russia to buy missile systems when the sanctions were announced and New Delhi has said the embargo would not affect ties to Moscow.

Haley said Thursday that “anybody, any country, that does business with Russia… there are sanctions.”

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