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Clinton in India: a gentle reminder about all that Iranian oil (+video)

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants India to stop buying oil from Iran, given concerns over Iran's nuclear program. But can Delhi stop?

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / May 7, 2012

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi, India, Monday, May 7. Clinton urged energy-starved India on Monday to reduce its Iranian oil imports to keep up pressure on the Islamic republic to come clean about its nuclear program.

Harish Tyagi/AP

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American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to India this week is a gentle reminder that the US would like its closest ally in Asia to be a little less friendly with Iran.

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Hillary Clinton, during an interaction with reporters, talks about urging India to stop buying oil from Iran.

India currently imports almost 80 percent of its oil, and some 11 percent of the total comes from Iran, in order to help fuel its solidly booming economy. That growth itself is welcomed by Washington, but a recently passed US law would impose sanctions on countries, like India, who purchase their oil from Iran, starting June 28. The US fears that Iran may be moving toward developing nuclear weapons, a charge that Iran denies.

"We believe, at this moment in time, the principal threat is a nuclear-armed Iran," said Ms. Clinton, during an interaction with reporters in the eastern city of Kolkata. "We need India to be part of the international effort.... We hope they will do even more and we think there is an adequate supply in the market place as Saudi Arabia, Iraq. We think this is part of India's role in the international community."

Few expect India to turn off the spigots right away. Replacing $11 billion worth of Iranian oil each year isn’t easy. But for a variety of other reasons, including internal politics, some analysts say that India will be either unwilling or unable to deliver on Clinton’s request.

“It’s entirely reasonable to request this, but the question is; will they be able to pull it off?” says Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science and Rabindranath Tagore Chair of Indian Cultures and Civilizations at Indiana University. “It comes down to coalition politics and a small number of people who still want to unfurl the banner of non-alignment.”

Matters are not made easier by the fact that the current government of India is a coalition propped up by smaller left-wing parties, adds Mr. Ganguly, none of whom are particularly fond of the United States or its push for open and free markets.

“India thus far has failed to come up with an answer to the question of what they want from the US, and what kind of relationship they want to have with the United States,” says Ganguly. “I fear that some people in the US are starting to ask, is this really worth it.”

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