NEW DELHI  - India will keep doing business with Tehran and sees no reason to seek a waiver that would protect buyers of Iranian oil from a fresh round of U.S. sanctions, a senior Indian cabinet minister said on Thursday.
“Why should we seek waiver from the U.S.? We have done business with Iran earlier and will continue to do business,” the minister, who has knowledge of the matter but did not want to be named as the matter is confidential, told Reuters.
The minister said government officials would visit Iran next week and find ways to pay for oil without contravening U.S. financial measures designed to hinder the trade. The comments partly echo industry sources who told Reuters on Wednesday that New Delhi may not seek a waiver from the latest U.S. sanctions.
India, which imports about 12 percent of its oil needs, or 350,000-400,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Iran, has been struggling to pay for it owing to sanctions on dealings with Iran, government officials have said previously. New U.S. laws authorised on December 31 impose sanctions on financial institutions dealing with Iran’s central bank, the main clearing house for the country’s oil payments. That is widely expected to make it even tougher for importers to pay for Iran crude.
India’s Iran oil imports are worth about $12 billion annually. India currently pays for Iran crude through Turkey’s Halkbank, a mechanism government officials have said may be cut off by the latest round of sanctions.
Halkbank has already refused to open an account for state-run Bharat Petroleum Corp for oil from Iran. The U.S. law, however, allows waivers to firms in countries that significantly reduce dealings with Iran, or at any time when it is either in the U.S. national interest or necessary for energy market stability.
An Indian delegation will visit Tehran from January 16-21 to explore alternative routes of payment to ensure supplies without breaching sanctions, government officials said on Wednesday.
“I believe our officials are quite capable ... There are capable people (in the finance ministry and the central bank) going (to Iran),” the Indian minister said.
“This a technical issue but I am confident they will find a solution and a payment mechanism option soon.”
Earlier on Thursday an Indian oil ministry official denied comments to Reuters from industry sources saying the government had asked refiners to reduce Iranian oil imports, adding the existing mechanism through Turkey was working but that India was also looking for alternative supplies.
He didn’t explain why India was looking for alternative supplies.
The United States and its allies in Europe and elsewhere are trying to put pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear programme, worried that Tehran is attempting to develop its own atom bomb.
Tehran says it is only seeking to produce nuclear power.
Japan and South Korea intend to seek waivers on the sanctions from the United States.
Indian refiners have gradually started raising supplies from other sources such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates.