Conflict & Justice

India: US ambassador nominee grilled over Iran-India oil issue

Nancy J. Powell, the career diplomat slated to be the next U.S. ambassador to India, was grilled by Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike over how she would handle New Delhi's reluctance to honor America's economic sanctions against Iran at nomination hearings in Washington this week, reports

“I know that this is going to be one of the issues that I will be spending a great deal of time on, in working with the Iranian sanctions legislation with our own policies and with the Indians to work with them,” Powell said.

"Iran and India have a long tradition of trade across energy and other fields. It is one that is clearly a part of our sanctions regime, that we are hoping to see it significantly reduced."

However, questions from Democratic Senator Robert Mendendez of New Jersey indicated that U.S. lawmakers are not keen to allow India much wiggle room.

"The Indian government, which is one of Iran's largest crude customers, seems to be rebuking the sanctions and looking for workarounds, including considering payments in gold and transactions that detour around the central bank of Iran which, at the end of the day, still is helping the Iranian government have the resources to fuel their nuclear ambitions," Menendez said.

"For our sanctions to be effective, it's really crucial that all nations, particularly democratic nations like India, work together to confront Iran and insist that it terminate its effort to achieve nuclear weapons capability."

Powell's responses suggested that she might emerge as a better advocate for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh than U.S. President Barack Obama. But as I reported earlier this week, India is hardly alone in working around American sanctions. And efforts to bully New Delhi into compliance could cost Washington more, in terms of damage to the budding Indo-US “strategic partnership,” than leakage in the sanction regime – which many suggest will only make Tehran more belligerent.