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Posted at: Apr 26, 2019, 12:55 PM; last updated: Apr 26, 2019, 10:11 PM (IST)

India flags China card as US is unmoved on exemption for Iran oil

India flags China card as US is unmoved on exemption for Iran oil
As more trouble is brewing for India’s relationship with the trans-Atlantic alliance, India has subtly displayed the China card.

Sandeep Dikshit
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 26

The US declined to give India any leeway in importing oil from one of its important regional partners Iran during a high-level visit by a State Department official.

As more trouble is brewing for India’s relationship with the trans-Atlantic alliance, India has subtly displayed the China card. It is opting to push upfront a possible middle-of-the-year summit meeting between the Prime Minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping as a certainty to indicate its alternative options.

The meeting with US State Department’s top official for South Asia Alice Wells on Wednesday and Thursday brought little joy for Indian diplomats and bureaucrats on the Iran oil issue. Wells referred to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s categorical statement asking India and seven other countries to whittle their oil imports down to zero by May 2 while declining the extension of a special exemption to India.

While China and Turkey have taken the defiance route, India has opted for a lower pitch in public by displaying assuredness in locating alternative supply sources due to the impending loss of at least 13 million tones of Iran-sourced oil.

The US has opened a new pressure point after it placed India on a priority watch list for deficiencies in its intellectual property rights framework. Its ally, the UK, has approached the UN alleging police torture of its citizen Christian Michael, the alleged middleman in the Agusta-Westland deal. After being extradited to India by its new-found ally the UAE, Michael is among the few prisoners allowed to be interrogated despite being in judicial custody.

India is choosing to highlight an upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping which will have a different tone and tenor. The meeting, to be held here mid-year, will be in the same format as the Wuhan “informal” summit last April where PM Modi and Xi conversed without official paraphernalia over two days for a total of 10 hours. Although both leaders had decided on a follow-up “informal” summit at Wuhan itself, both China and India have flagged it recently to play down differences on the Belt and Road Initiative and the Masood Azhar blacklisting issue.

At that time, India had sought to set the right environment by cooling down its ties with the exiled Tibetan community and refraining from responding in kind to the Chinese criticism of Indian leaders visiting Arunachal Pradesh.

India, however, remains on course for a stronger security relationship with the US though trade ties are facing turbulence because of the mood in Washington to review duty-free Indian exports of Rs 40,000 crore. A senior Pentagon official is here to tie up the loose ends of talks with Wells in the defence sector. US pointsman on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad is due next in Delhi to address India’s concerns and involvement in settlement with the Taliban.

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