US eyes more cuts in India's oil imports from Iran

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By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will use a two-day visit to India this week to urge further reductions in Indian imports of Iranian oil.

A senior official traveling with Clinton in Bangladesh ahead of her arrival in India on Sunday said the matter will be at the top of the secretary's agenda in talks with Indian leaders.

India, which has tremendous energy needs to fuel its rapid growth, has made some progress in easing its dependence on Iranian oil, but the official said the U.S. wants to see more.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview Clinton's private discussions in Kolkata and New Delhi, said the "trend lines are good" but "we really need to receive assurances that they are going to continue to make good progress."

The official noted that India had recently stepped up imports of oil from Saudi Arabia to make up for the reduction in Iranian oil and that the U.S. was eager to see the Indians explore other alternatives.

Like other major consumers of Iranian oil, India could face U.S. sanctions by the end of June if the Obama administration determines it has not made significant cuts in imports under a law aimed at squeezing Iran's petroleum industry to press the country to comply with international demands over its nuclear program.

A dozen European nations and Japan have already been spared from those sanctions after the administration determined they had substantially reduced their Iranian oil imports. India, along with China, South Korea, Turkey and South Africa have still not received such waivers.

The U.S. special envoy for global energy issues, Carlos Pasqual, will visit India later in May to follow up on Clinton's talks, the official said.

Because of its energy needs, India has bristled at U.S. calls to seek alternatives to cheap Iranian oil. The official said the Indian parliament is especially resistant to comply with demands from Washington on Iran.

After visiting Kolkata, India's major eastern city, Clinton will travel on Monday to New Delhi where her visit will coincide with that of a major Iranian trade delegation seeking opportunities in the Indian market. The U.S. official downplayed the presence of the delegation, which he said was centered on consumer goods. "I don't think we are too concerned about it," he said.

In her talks with Indian officials, Clinton will also be pressing for the country to continue economic reforms and trade liberalization, including dropping restrictions on foreign investment in the finance sector and allowing large western retailers to open up, the official said.

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