NEW DELHI: While officially still defiant on the US demand to cut oil imports from Iran to zero before the November 4 deadline or face sanctions, New Delhi is hustling to find ways around the impending crisis, which involves not just India’s energy needs, but also the strategic port of Chabahar, which India is helping develop as a gateway into Afghanistan.
Even as Indian officials continued their hectic parleys with Washington for a waiver, a Reuters report said that India was expected to halve its oil imports from Iran in September-October.
However, bringing it down to zero by November is a tall ask given that oil from elsewhere is bound to be more expensive than the discounted rates being offered by Iran, and the fact most Indian refineries are geared for the kind of oil that Iran supplies.
Then there’s the fact that India is heading into an election year.
Admitting that “We do face a tricky situation,” an Indian official said that talks were on for a possible US waiver, but that India was making “other arrangements” to ensure that the flow from Iran was not stopped.
This includes allowing Indian refiners to buy Iranian oil on a Cost, Insurance and Freight arrangement, under which Iran would provide not just shipping but also insurance, given that Western insurers have already stopped covering oil imports from Iran.
China, the largest importer of Iranian oil, is negotiating a similar arrangement.
“It is a delicate balancing act between our commercial, political and strategic interests,” he said, saying the final decision would be taken “in the best interests of the nation.”
Chabahar under lens
While reiterating that the US would push for zero imports from Iran, Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said Washington was reviewing the Chabahar port project.