Washington: Piggybacking on the anti-Iranian sentiments, an anti-India campaign seems to be gaining ground in the United States.
This comes amidst escalation in tension between Iran and Israel and the United States slapping additional sanctions on the Iranian regime.
The anti-India lobby, which was lying low for the past several years in the aftermath of the historic Indo-US civil nuclear deal, is using the opportunity to portray New Delhi as a "villain" which is providing an escape route to the Iranian regime from international sanctions.
This week alone, the Indian Ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, has received two letters, one from two key lawmakers and other from the powerful Israeli lobby in Washington against India's relationship with Iran.
Friends of India at the Capitol Hill and the Obama administration believe that this might gain momentum in the coming days as the anti-India lobby wants to capitalise on the popular anti-Iran sentiments in Washington and vilify the India-Iran oil trade, quite ignorant of the fact that India's purchase of oil from Iran has come down in last few years.
India, in 2008-09, purchased 21.8 million tonnes of oil from Iran, which dropped to 21 million in 2009-10, and 18.5 million tonnes in 2010-11. Even percentage wise too, there has been considerable drop in India's reliance on Iranian oil from 16.5 per cent in 2008-09 to 13 per cent in 2009-10 and 11 per cent in 2010-11.
Latest figures estimate that it has further dropped to 10 per cent.
However, the anti-India lobby here does not seem to take note of these publicly available figures and instead wants India to cut-off all its oil purchase from Iran; which experts say would plunge India into a deep energy crisis.
Obama administration officials note that they are oblivious of the fact. This is the reason why, both the White House and the State Department have gone on record several times in the past one week that the US does not want to implement Iranian sanctions in a way that hurts its allies.
"The US is implementing sanctions on Iran in a way that had the desired effect just to pressure and isolate Iran further, and did not have unintended consequences for any of its allies, or more broadly, for the international oil market," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday.
A day earlier, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland asserted that trade with Iran in food, medicines and other humanitarian commodities would not attract sanctions.
"We've said regularly that our own sanctions are not designed to prevent food, medical equipment, those kinds of things going to Iran," she said.
However, given the anti-Iran sentiment that is currently prevailing in the US and with political leaders here trying to encash on this during an election year, the Obama administration, which itself appears to have shown an understanding of India's position, might find it difficult to handle the situation.
"We call on India to cancel its planned trade exploration trip to Iran, stop buying Iran's oil, and join the international effort to isolate the regime," said United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) as it urged lawmakers to ask India to stop its oil trade with Iran and not to send its trade delegation to Tehran.
India is sending a trade delegation to Iran to explore the possibilities of increasing bilateral trade so that it can make payments for the oil purchase.
"Now is not the time to neither explore future trade opportunities with Iran nor increase business ties," said Congressmen Steve Israel and Richard Hanna in a joint letter to Nirupama Rao.
A few days before that Rao also received a letter from the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
Referring to the recent announcement by Commerce Secretary, Rahul Khullar, that a "huge delegation" of India businesses is going to Iran soon, AJC, in its letter to Rao, said this reflects that New Delhi is taking economic advantage of the current situation.
"This suggests that New Delhi is attempting to take advantage of sanctions adopted by like-minded nations for the explicit purpose of preventing nuclear proliferation by a dangerously aggressive regime and which could, in turn, trigger an escalating arms race in a highly volatile region," AJC president Robert Elman and its executive director David Harris said in the letter.
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